Apr 15, 2023

I Would Have Invited the Pope


THE Holy See has announced Pope Francis I's repudiation of the "Doctrine of Discovery," which many centuries ago was invoked by the monarchs of Spain and Portugal to seize lands, which previously belonged to somebody else. According to the

Vatican: "Many Christianshave committed evil acts against Indigenous peoples for which recent Popes have asked forgiveness on numerous occasions." "The 'doctrine of discovery' is not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church." "The Catholic Church therefore repudiates those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of Indigenous peoples, including what has become known as the legal and political 'doctrine of discovery.'"

What is the "Doctrine of Discovery?"

In 1452, Pope Nicolas V issued the papal bull Dum Diversas followed by the Romanus Pontifex in 1455. In 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued his own papal bull, Inter Caetera. The Inter Caetera generallyconferred to Spain lordship over all lands found and yet to be found west of a drawn line.

Pope Alexander VI then brokered a treaty between the Catholic Monarchs of Spain and the Portuguese king with the Inter Caetera as the basis. Known as the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494, it split the globe into two — like an orange — and established a line of demarcation — straight as an arrow — that neatly divided ownership of the world and its inhabitants between Portugal and Spain. All lands located west of the line belonged to Spain and all lands east belonged to Portugal.

The line was originally 555 kilometers west of Cape Verde Islands near the coast of northwestern Africa which was controlled by Portugal. In 1506, the line was moved 1,500 kilometers farther west to enable Portugal to claim the eastern coast of what is now Brazil.

The division became the basis for the Spanish claim to an archipelago, now the Philippines; its conquest by armed soldiers was financed by the Catholic Monarchs. In my youth, Magellan was credited for having "discovered" the Philippines in 1521, although the Philippines did not yet exist at that time. It has been said, however, that Magellan was actually lost because he was looking for the Spice Islands, the Moluccas, which is in present day Indonesia.

International law is not exempt from the errors of history. Conquest is considered by some publicists as a valid way to acquire territory. Although dubious, the justification for the validity of conquest is the "Doctrine of Intertemporal Law," which states that the legal effect of a certain act is to be determined in accordance with the law at the time the act was done. Territory acquired by such means during that time was allegedly validly taken, and title to the territory was legally vested on the conquering State.

The abovementioned papal bulls and the Treaty of Tordesillas laid the foundations for the systematic conquest by Sword and Cross of our islands, the Americas and other territories.

In our case, it was the Patronato Real or the Royal Patronage that served as the vehicle for conquest and subjugation. In fine, the basic structure of the Patronato Real was that the Spanish Monarchs accepted the role of purveyors and defenders of the Catholic faith in all of the Spanish empire's colonies and overseas possessions. Friar-missionaries of the religious orders were paid by the colonial government with revenue derived from tribute imposed on the native population. The Patronato Real and the religious orders established schools and churches with funds derived from the colonies. Because of the Royal Patronage, the friars in the colonies became the official advisers of the colonial government which eventually led to the systematic exploitation of the natives. The lowly indio was cooked both ways.

By way of quid pro quo for evangelization, the Holy See recognized the Spanish monarchy's just title to the colonies it had conquered. The recognition, according to Jesuit historians, Horacio De La Costa and John N. Schumacher, "was implicit in the conferment on the Spanish monarch of the title 'patron' of the church in the Indies."

The indio was made to accept his fate with the promise of an afterlife in an undescribed heaven. The most telling effect of the colonial system was in the field of property. Lands not owned by the religious orders belonged to the Spanish crown which proclaimed ownership over the same because of the "Doctrine of Discovery."

The Patronato Real and the false "Doctrine of Discovery" were depicted in "Hocus I" and "Quadrícula," two exhibitions held in the National Museum of Fine Arts, in 2017 and 2019. (Eleven are now on permanent display at the National Museum of Fine Arts and Anthropology.) Among the ardent viewers of the Hocus paintings were priests and nuns who were astonished at how those papal bulls and treaties influenced our history. A Diocesan priest who was my classmate in the Ateneo College of Law suggested that we invite Luis Cardinal Tagle to view the paintings. I blackballed the idea as I did not want to put the good cardinal in what could have been an awkward situation. Had I known then that the Vatican itself would one day repudiate the "Doctrine of Discovery," I would have invited the pope.

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Tricia Manalo and Mike Navallo of ANC indirectly suggested the topic for this column.

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