Revoke the Doctrine of Discovery

Putting an end to Legal Justification for Genocide

We need to put an end to the law that enables brutally and violently conquering Indigenous lands!

Indigenous people are being disenfranchised, displaced, and ultimately devastated around the world. Their sacred lands are being reaped for wealth at the expense of the wellbeing of our planet. This is done “legally” by using the Doctrine of Discovery, a barbaric 15th century edict.

Romero Institute and supporters call on Pope Francis to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery, with the notion that the document’s framework can no longer remain applicable in the modern age of science and reason.

Romero Institute and supporters call on Pope Francis to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery in order to put an end to the justification of violence and brutality against Indigenous people. Read our letter to Pope Francis here.

What is The Doctrine of Discovery?

The Doctrine of Discovery refers to three 15th century papal bulls that provided the moral and legal rationale for Christian explorers to confiscate all land and possessions of the inhabitants of “barbarous nations.” This ultimately resulted in the Indigenous peoples to be killed and displaced, while their sacred lands have been reaped for wealth at the expense of the wellbeing of our planet.

Why does it matter?

Repercussions from the Doctrine of Discovery still negatively affect millions of Indigenous peoples. In nearly every case of western colonization, civilizing the Native peoples, often by force, has led to a decimation of native cultures and peoples. Even in the 21st century, the Doctrine of Discovery is still used to disenfranchise, displace, and ultimately devastate Indigenous peoples around the world.

Affecting the Lakota Oyate

With regard to the United States, in 1823 the Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall cited the Doctrine of Discovery as a justification for colonists who had claimed Native American lands in Johnson v. M’Intosh. Chief Justice Marshall discussed the age of discovery as well as Christian expansion by saying that Native Americans “had no property rights but rather merely held a right of occupancy.” This became the legal and moral precedent in later legal decisions, leaving the Indigenous peoples no right to the land that they have responsibly stewarded for centuries. States and local governments continuously fall back on archaic federal policy as the basis for the unending denial of indigenous peoples rights to property, clearly seen in the Lakota peoples fight to regain the Black Hills.


The best solution today is to have Pope Francis revoke the Doctrine, with the notion that the document’s framework can no longer remain applicable in the modern age of science and reason. Pope Francis, through his action and his words thus far, has demonstrated that he feels compelled to work towards humanitarian causes throughout his time in the Vatican. As such, whereas previous popes have ignored these requests to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery, we believe and continue to hope that this first Jesuit Pope can and will change that pattern. Pope Francis has deviated from several former policies that others in his office have supported, and this is a natural step in the progression to acknowledge the rights of indigenous peoples across the world.

Why Revoke it?

Even today the Doctrine of Discovery continues to negatively effect millions of Indigenous Peoples. Since 1823, the Doctrine has been used in U.S property law relating to Indigenous land. It is used as the justification for claiming that Indians don’t have title to ‘discovered lands,’ that the Indigenous peoples are mere tenants on their ancestral lands. As recently as 2005, in the case City of Sherill v Oneida Indian Nation, the court ruled that “under the ‘doctrine of discovery,’ fee title to the lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign – first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States.” A revocation would spark a conversation for Indigenous advocates, policy makers and ordinary citizens to address its outdated and unjust policies toward sacred tribal lands, which are too frequently taken for profits at the expense of environmental integrity.

Why now?

For over a decade religious and Indigenous organizations have been working to request the Pope revoke the Doctrine. Pope Francis has demonstrated advocacy on behalf of the poor and marginalized peoples of our planet. He has recognized the Church’s crimes committed against the Indigenous peoples, has affirmed the sacred nature of Indigenous lands, while asserting Indigenous tribes should be the principle dialogue partners for projects affecting those lands. The Episcopal Church, Unitarian Universalist Association, Christian Church, World Council of Churches, New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, the United Methodist Church, have all repudiated the Doctrine. And dozens of other religious organizations have been calling for its revocation since early 2013.

If your organization would like to sign on to our letter, please e-mail our Press Director at ardy@ Read our letter to Pope Francis here.

Petition to Pope Francis

We respectfully ask you, Pope Francis, to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery, which vested moral and spiritual authority in Colonial powers to brutally and violently conquer Indigenous lands.