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Opinion: What Dr. Johnson can teach Pope Francis

“To omit for a year, or for a day, the most efficacious method of advancing Christianity, in compliance with any purposes that terminate on this side of the grave, is a crime of which I know not that the world has yet had an example, except in the practice of the planters of America…”

Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Iqaluit, in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, to Rome July 29, 2022. (CNS photo/Paul Haring); right: Portrait of Samuel Johnson, by John Opie. (Wikipedia)

Reading a Catholic paper yesterday, I must say I was rather startled to see the pope charging the Catholic priests who taught in the elementary schools of Canada with genocide. Returning from his trip to Canada, the following exchange took place during the press conference:

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press: Good evening Pope Francis, My name is Brittany Hobson. I am a reporter with the Canadian press. You have often spoken on the need to speak clearly, honestly, forthrightly, and with parrhesia. You know that Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission described the residential school system as “cultural genocide.” This has since been amended to just “genocide.” Those who were listening to your apologies the past week did express disappointment that the word genocide was not used. Would you use those words and accept that members of the Church participated in genocide?

Pope Francis: It’s true, I didn’t use the word because it didn’t occur to me, but I described the genocide and asked for pardon, forgiveness for this work that is genocidal. For example, I condemned this too: Taking away children and changing culture, changing mentalities, changing traditions, changing a race, let’s say, a whole culture. Yes, it’s a technical word, genocide, but I didn’t use it because it didn’t come to mind, but I described it. It is true; yes, it’s genocide. Yes, you all, be calm. You can say that I said that, yes, that it was genocide. [In English] Yes. Yes. Thank you.

It is true that the Holy Father does not appear to have the fondest view of the Catholic priesthood, nor of the proselytism vital to evangelization. It is also true that he shares the long-standing liberal view that the history of the Church is, to some lively extent, a history of colonialism and oppression. But he has never gone so far as to say that the Church is guilty of genocide. After I read the report, I was reminded of a letter that the great honorary Catholic Samuel Johnson wrote in 1766 to Mr. William Drummond, which my fellow co-religionists and all men of good faith should read. Boswell sets up the letter nicely in his incomparable biography.

[Johnson] wrote this year a letter, not intended for publication, which has, perhaps, as strong marks of his sentiment and style, as any of his compositions. The original is in my possession. It is addressed to the late Mr. William Drummond, bookseller, in Edinburgh, a gentleman of good family, but small estate, who took arms for the house of Stuart in 1745; and during his concealment in London till the act of general pardon came out, obtained the acquaintance of Dr. Johnson, who justly esteemed him as a very worthy man. It seems some of the members of the Society in Scotland for propagating Christian knowledge had opposed the scheme of translating the Holy Scripture into the Erse or Gaelic language, from political considerations of the disadvantage of keeping up the distinction between the Highlanders and the other inhabitants of North Britain. Dr. Johnson being informed of this, I suppose by Mr. Drummond, wrote with a generous indignation as follows.

Since the letter is one of the noblest Johnson ever wrote, it bears quoting in its entirety:


Johnson’s Court, Fleet Street, Aug. 13, 1766,


I did not expect to hear that it could be, in an assembly convened for the propagation of Christian knowledge, a question whether any nation uninstructed in religion should receive instruction; or whether that instruction should be imparted to them by a translation of the holy books into their own language. If obedience to the will of God be necessary to happiness, and knowledge of his will be necessary to obedience, I know not how he that withholds this knowledge, or delays it, can be said to love his neighbour as himself. He that voluntarily continues ignorance is guilty of all the crimes which ignorance produces; as to him that should extinguish the tapers of a lighthouse, might justly be imputed the calamities of shipwrecks. Christianity is the highest perfection of humanity; and as no man is good but as he wishes the good of others, no man can be good in the highest degree, who wishes not to others the largest measures of the greatest good. To omit for a year, or for a day, the most efficacious method of advancing Christianity, in compliance with any purposes that terminate on this side of the grave, is a crime of which I know not that the world has yet had an example, except in the practice of the planters of America, —a race of mortals whom, I suppose, no other man wishes to resemble.

The Papists have, indeed, denied to the laity the use of the Bible; but this prohibition, in few places now very rigorously enforced, is defended by arguments, which have for their foundation the care of souls. To obscure, upon motives merely political, the light of revelation, is a practice reserved for the reformed; and, surely, the blackest midnight of popery is meridian sunshine to such a reformation. I am not very willing that any language should be totally extinguished. The similitude and derivation of languages afford the most indubitable proof of the traduction of nations, and the genealogy of mankind. They add often physical certainty to historical evidence; and often supply the only evidence of ancient migrations, and of the revolutions of ages which left no written monuments behind them.

Every man’s opinion, at least his desires, are a little influenced by his favourite studies. My zeal for languages may seem, perhaps, rather over-heated, even to those by whom I desire to be well esteemed. To those who have nothing in their thoughts but trade or policy, present power, or present money, I should not think it necessary to defend my opinions ; but with men of letters I would not unwillingly compound, by wishing the continuance of every language, however narrow in its extent, or however incommodious for common purposes, till it is reposited in some version of a known book, that it may be always hereafter examined and compared with other languages, and then permitting its disuse. For this purpose, the translation of the Bible is most to be desired. It is not certain that the same method will not preserve the Highland language, for the purposes of learning, and abolish it from daily use. When the Highlanders read the Bible, they will naturally wish to have its obscurities cleared, and to know the history, collateral or appendant. Knowledge always desires increase: it is like fire, which must first be kindled by some external agent, but which will afterwards propagate itself. When they once desire to learn, they will naturally have recourse to the nearest language by which that desire can be gratified; and one will tell another, that if he would attain knowledge, he must learn English.

This speculation may, perhaps, be thought more subtle than the grossness of real life will easily admit. Let it, however, be remembered, that the efficacy of ignorance has long been tried, and has not produced the consequence expected. Let knowledge, therefore, take its turn; and let the patrons of privation stand awhile aside, and admit the operation of positive principles.

You will be pleased, Sir, to assure the worthy man who is employed in a new translation, that he has my wishes for his success; and if here or at Oxford I can be of any use, that I shall think it more than honour to promote his undertaking.

I am sorry that I delayed so long to write. I am, Sir, your most humble servant,

SAM. Johnson.

Boswell’s response to the letter should also be quoted: “The opponents of this pious scheme being made ashamed of their conduct, the benevolent undertaking was allowed to go on.” Whether the pope will register any shame for his vilification of the good work of the priests in Canada remains to be seen, though he should be made aware that keeping native peoples in ignorance of Christianity, let alone the knowledge of civilization is neither faithful nor charitable. As Johnson so unanswerably reminds us, “The efficacy of ignorance has long been tried, and has not produced the consequence expected.”

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About Edward Short 37 Articles
Edward Short is the author of Newman and his Contemporaries, Newman and his Family, and Newman and History, as well as Adventure in the Book Pages: Essays and Reviews. His latest book, What the Bells Sang, includes essays on poets, moralists, novelists, historians, and Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman. He lives in New York with his wife and two young children.


  1. Francis, in flight: “Taking away children and changing culture, changing mentalities, changing traditions, changing a race, let’s say, a whole culture. Yes, it’s a technical word, genocide,…I described it. It is true; yes, it’s genocide. Yes, you all, be calm. You can say that I said that, yes, that it was genocide. [In English] Yes. Yes. Thank you.”

    Leaving race out of it, allowing children to be ‘the faithful who prefer Latin Mass,’ Francis defines the Church suppression of the TLM. His Traditionis Custodis forces such a change of culture, mentality, and tradition. This is Francis defining genocide.

    • Sounds to me like the pope is referring to BLM and the Brandon Administration’s promotion of CRT and the perverted sexual exploitation of America’s youth with their fixation on trans and all other forms of dysfunction.

  2. “I condemned this too: Taking away children and changing culture, changing mentalities, changing traditions, changing a race, let’s say, a whole culture.”
    While I don’t agree much with taking away children from their parents (I admit I have not followed the events in Canada that closely), changing cultures is not all bad, and sometimes the folks who are changed are happy for it.
    “It is true; yes, it’s genocide. Yes, you all, be calm. You can say that I said that, yes, that it was genocide. [In English] Yes. Yes. Thank you.”
    I am not even sure where to go with that one.

    • Dear Kathryn,

      I should also add here that Johnson actually brought up a black slave boy from Jamaica in his various houses in London, Francis Barber (1742-1801), whom he sent to an English school and later made not only his manservant but his legatee. Thus, he took an active, personal, faithful part in the education – particularly the Christian education — of an individual who was not entirely dissimilar from the indigenous peoples of Canada about whom the pope is so misguidedly solicitous. The idea of anyone, let alone a pope, charging the deeply humane, deeply Christian Johnson with having engaged in genocide for indoctrinating Frank in the Faith is too grotesque, but then Pope Benedict XIV, a witty, gentle, civilized man would never have taken it into his head to imagine Christian evangelization reprehensible, nor would Pope Clement XIII, whose authorization of the office of the Sacred Heart was so beloved of the Jesuits of the eighteenth century — Jesuits with whom the present pope bears such little resemblance.

    • I suppose wee are okay with it when other people are forced to change their culture after being removed from their families. How would you feel if members of your family were forcibly taken away by foreigners who occupied your country and made them change their culture? And disrespecting yours?
      What the Europeans did then was wrong, and it is time to admit that what they did was wrong – even if those people believed they were doing the right thing.
      If some learned people think it was alright, that does not make it so. Pope Francis did the Christian thing.

  3. Jesus Christ changed my culture, mentality and traditions. My culture was loneliness, resentment and despair, my mentality was in the belief that only the weak believed in God and my tradition was getting black-out wasted every weekend. Only through the dedicated patience, love and prayers of my Parents was the Light of Righteousness allowed to shine on my dark soul. Maybe the Pope’s comments were taken of context or edited to favor Woke politics, but I wonder if his conviction to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ is somewhat blunted by the need to be popular. I will continue to pray for him and our sad persecuted Church.

    • Do not confuse culture with religion. When I was in Bombay many decades ago, I heard the priest tell the Catholics at Mass that being a Christian does not mean that one has to change language, eating habits and clothes. He reminded them that accepting Jesus does not mean becoming a westerner. This could help them to loose sight of what their conversion is really about. Your personal conversion was of a different nature

      • Thanks Mal. While I agree that Westernization and Christendom do not have to be synonymous I also think that History and culture are dynamic and reflect a change in survival mechanisms. You may not have experienced the 1970’s and 1980’s in the U.S. for yourself but it was the beginning of the hedonistic “Me” culture of today and my survival mechanism as a teen reflected a strong need to be popular. But in Jesus Christ this is no law, no culture, no popularity contest or indeed even survival of the fittest because on cross Jesus set us free. I would like to think that many of these Black Robes felt the same way.

  4. I may have to retract my statement above that Pope Francis did surprisingly well until the airborne presser. Maybe it was all of a piece and the presser was just the punchline. In any case, I think the presser was either unfortunate or outrageous. Francis also seemed to fall (easily) into a set-up. Phil Lawler, in Catholic Culture, July 29, pretty much nails what’s really at stake, as is his wont.

  5. Our US Bureau of Indian Affairs had identical policy. Familiarity experienced during early years following ordination on the large Navajo Reservation [now Navajo Nation] and checkerboard area [off reservation Govt lands occupied by Navajo and Whites]. Navajo children were removed far from homes, literally ‘deindianized’, taught to become and think like ‘Anglo’s’. When completing indoctrination [generally well intended with intent of integration] Navajo found it difficult to integrate, often rejected by Whites. Alcoholism set in suicides the highest anywhere. Navajo Nation police were largely Sioux from the Dakotas to avoid murderous inter familial Navajo retaliation [although murder, rape, high felony are addressed by the FBI due to the US Govt status provisions granted to an autonomous region]. Gallup NM at the time virtually had as many bars as homes. Drunken Navajo were everywhere. My bishop was physically assaulted on the streets at least once.
    Since, this program was revised, Navajo entering politics gaining recognition as an autonomous Nation within a Nation educational emphasis on their culture, US Govt occupational training facilities constructed on the Navajo Nation territory [Navajo are by far the largest Native American nation and a political entity]. Our Franciscans had a large hand in this reversal. The infamous bars were cleaned up [removed] and Gallup now a pleasant place to live and the Native American capitol of America where American tribes congregate each year.

    • Thanks for this post, Fr. Peter. It is true that when people are dispossessed and striped of their dignity, they slide down the slippery slope. Providing opportunities for people to “advance” is the better way of achieving results.
      Even to make people become Catholics (proselytizing) is to be shunned. Getting people to know and to lovingly accept Jesus (evangelizing) is the one true way to do it.

      • Mal, there’s a dividing line between proselytizing [a word used by the Apostle, in the Gk, prosēlytos, to convert] as forced, and proselytizing as an appeal to conversion. To interpret the effort to convert as a violation is to repudiate the Apostolic mission Christ gave to the Apostles at the Ascension, Go out and teach all nations what I have commanded you.

        • I understand that the good news need to be spread. But for the “convert”, it is better that the person seek to become a follower of Jesus, than to simple be made a member of the Church regardless of his/her feelings.

  6. In deference to Short’s article, he identifies the underlying fault in the Pope’s graciously conceived, and well received [in Canada] admission of guilt. There is truth in the admission, although Short through Boswell [as Stanley would have said, John Boswell I presume, Yale U historian?] deftly offers the best criticism. Pope Francis’ dislike of successful missionary efforts who with prejudice dismisses them as proselytizers, as if conversion were an expletive [individual conscience must remain enshrined lest we return to serving Christ].

  7. Dr. Johnson could perhaps also enlighten on the meaning of Francis’ use, in-flight, of his apparently polyglottinous word, apparently an English portmanteau: “indietrist.”

    For further gentredification, googling “polyglottinous,” should give “Draddlegnoss,” AID EPOCIGOLLI (translated as “In illogic we trust.”) Funny if you like it like that.

  8. I’m grateful to my friend Edward Short for resurrecting this wonderful letter by Johnson, who happens to be my favorite author and whose works ought to be known more widely by Catholics. Johnson was not a member of our communion but often showed himself to be a friend to it and a better defender of Catholic distinctives than many Catholics.

  9. Assimilation is another more positive way of looking at this. My grandmother, whose parents were born in Italy, spent much of her youth in an American near-ghetto neighborhood. The bright spot: the “Settlement House” where she and other children of foreign parents went weekly ( voluntarily) to learn how to be American. Language, culture, dress, education.It worked. My grandmother could hold her own in conversation and dressed impeccably. No one would ever know she never went past the 8th grade. A voracious reader, she could hold her own on any topic. As an adult, she could barely utter a handful of Italian words. Which in her present life were no longer needed. All that remained of her “old world” was her cooking.

    Recently I had the opportunity to hear a young Native American woman speak about the Indian schools, at which her grandmother had been a student. Both her grandparents assimilated she lamented, and it would appear they did not regret it. Yet, there she stood, well educated, well spoken, well dressed. How could anyone claim that assimilation had not helped her reach a higher standard of living than if they had not assimilated??. No one is stopping her today from learning her native language or about her past culture. I donate to a number of charities which aid Native Americans. The reservations are rife with abuse, alcoholism and suicide. It could be said some of this is due to the collapse of their way of life. Change is inevitable, it is how the wheels of history grind. There are winners and losers and nothing will ever change that. The weak succumb. The strong adapt and survive.

    Finally, I notice that there was a drastic cultural change in Japan, following their defeat in WWII. Changes in culture, dress, business, government, everything.I do not hear them lamenting the change, nor wishing to return. Its clear they decided to adapt and survive, and thrive. Its beyond unfortunate that the Pope decided to be led by the press to accept the outcome at these schools as genocide. What appears to be un-investigated is how many of the children emerging from those Indian schools became a success story??

    • I don’t know. I would imagine that virtually all the alcohol, drugs, & suicide on our Indian reservations are a result of the loss of their way of life.
      I live where French speaking people were forcibly removed from their land & dumped all over Creation in hopes of assimilation and worse. They managed to find refuge in the swamps & backwaters, preserving their culture & language until public schools came along & did their utmost to erase that. Paved roads, radio & TV hurried along the process too. Now it’s pretty much the elderly & illiterate who still are fluent.

      French immersion schools are trying to recover the language but it’s pretty difficult when there are so few native speakers & no one left to reinforce that at home.
      I took a priest from Uganda recently to a local cultural center where it was explained to him that French speaking children were punished & forced to write 100 times on a blackboard:” I will not speak French in class.” Father appeared to think that wasn’t such a bad idea because he knew from experience in Africa how important it was to have a command of the English language if you want to succeed.
      It would have been nice if we could allow both languages & both cultures to be valued. I think that makes us all richer & we’d have more to pass down to our children & grandchildren. But it seldom works out that way.

  10. Archie Roach passed away last week:
    (I did a few shows as his sound engineer)

    This story’s right, this story’s true
    I would not tell lies to you
    Like the promises they did not keep
    And how they fenced us in like sheep.
    Said to us come take our hand
    Sent us off to mission land.
    Taught us to read, to write and pray
    Then they took the children away,
    Took the children away,
    The children away.
    Snatched from their mother’s breast
    Said this is for the best
    Took them away.

    The welfare and the policeman
    Said you’ve got to understand
    We’ll give them what you can’t give
    Teach them how to really live.
    Teach them how to live they said
    Humiliated them instead
    Taught them that and taught them this
    And others taught them prejudice.
    You took the children away
    The children away
    Breaking their mothers heart
    Tearing us all apart
    Took them away

    One dark day on Framingham
    Come and didn’t give a damn
    My mother cried go get their dad
    He came running, fighting mad
    Mother’s tears were falling down
    Dad shaped up and stood his ground.
    He said ‘You touch my kids and you fight me’

    And they took us from our family.
    Took us away
    They took us away
    Snatched from our mother’s breast
    Said this was for the best
    Took us away.

    Told us what to do and say
    Told us all the white man’s ways
    Then they split us up again
    And gave us gifts to ease the pain
    Sent us off to foster homes
    As we grew up we felt alone
    Cause we were acting white
    Yet feeling black

    One sweet day all the children came back
    The children come back
    The children come back
    Back where their hearts grow strong
    Back where they all belong
    The children came back
    Said the children come back
    The children come back
    Back where they understand
    Back to their mother’s land
    The children come back

    Back to their mother
    Back to their father
    Back to their sister
    Back to their brother
    Back to their people
    Back to their land
    All the children come back
    The children come back
    The children come back
    Yes I came back.

    • Thanks Christopher for sharing this beautiful and meaningful song. I wonder how Dr Johnson would have reacted if he had heard this song, or met Archie Roach. Pope Francis would have met many victims of these policies in his ministry.

  11. It seems to me, and reason, that if spreading the Gospel (and general literacy) to pagans is cultural genocide – the destruction of a cultural way of life – and is to be condemned; then, the forced indoctrination and acceptance of modern gender theory, same-sex “so called” marriage, … (and the list goes on) too, should be condemned by all major news outlets and governmental “truth” commissions as cultural genocide of our (until recently) shared Christian culture in the Americas.

  12. One should also add here that Johnson actually brought up a slave boy from Jamaica in his various houses in London, Francis Barber (1742-1801), whom he sent to an English school and later made not only his manservant but his legatee. Thus, he took an active, personal, faithful part in the education – particularly the Christian education — of an individual who was not entirely dissimilar from the indigenous peoples of Canada about whom the pope is so misguidedly solicitous. The idea of anyone, let alone a pope, charging the deeply humane, deeply Christian Johnson with having engaged in genocide for indoctrinating Frank in the Faith is too grotesque, but then Pope Benedict XIV, a witty, gentle, civilized man would never have taken it into his head to imagine Christian evangelization reprehensible, nor would Pope Clement XIII, whose authorization of the office of the Sacred Heart was so beloved of the Jesuits of the eighteenth century — Jesuits with whom the present pope bears such little resemblance.

    • I do not remember our Pope blaming any individual for the un-Christlike treatment experience by Native Canadians. He definitely did not charge the “deeply humane, deeply Christian Johnson with having engaged in genocide for indoctrinating.”
      Whether or not Pope Francis is inferior to other Jesuits is of little importance. What is important that Pope Francis is a very faithful Apostle of Jesus – in fact, our Lord’s Vicar. the rock who has been entrusted with the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Those ho doubt this, doubt Jesus.

  13. I would be happy if Francis could learn Johnson’s lesson of the tyranny of the subjective. Maybe the idea could begin to penetrate the mind of Francis that there is such a thing as self-deception in his constant pursuit of perverting “mercy” by eradicating guilt through his abuse of the concept of “discernment”. Perhaps then he would not be lending support to all the sins in the world that begin with self-deception.

  14. Perhaps it can be said that the expansion westward from the east coast was a mixed bag. This, without here diminishing the injustice of cultural imperialism (if there was “genocide,” is was the massive depopulation due to European diseases, sometimes deliberately spread through infected blankets). Among the various tribes in the United States there are recorded indigenous patterns of territorial invasion, slavery and even some cannibalism (and was it the Cherokees who held Black slaves?).

    In any event, let’s dip directly into the autobiography of one Talayesva, a Hopi Indian and periodically a student in reservation schools in the United States. For him, the happiest times were going home. He writes:

    “It was a joy to get home again, to see all my folks, and tell about my experiences at school. I had learned many English words and could recite part of the Ten Commandments. I knew how to sleep on a bed, pray to Jesus, comb my hair, eat with a knife and fork, and use a toilet. I learned that the world is round instead of flat, and it is indecent to go naked in the presence of girls, and to eat the testes of sheep or goats. I had also learned that a person thinks with his head instead of his heart.”

    The heart-and-head thing remains a challenge across all of civilization. Likewise, the flat earth thing (as contrasted with ecology)! And the high-priced clothing industry probably has an attitude about alternative dress codes.

  15. I often wonder what it implies of indigenous culture when it can be said that in their nakedness they were not ashamed and the implication for the colonizing culture, that they taught there was shame in being naked?

    I was thinking about this during my hour long commute to work this morning. What is the power of The Gospel? In the garden we were naked and unashamed and in direct unbroken relationship with our Creator. Upon acquiring knowledge of good and evil we became aware of our nakedness before each other and before God so we covered up and hid our nakedness. We became separated from our Creator.
    Over the generations we came to know more of the character attributes of our Creator God. More of this holy and perfect character until there came the ultimate revelation of the Character of our Creator God in the person of Jesus, the Son of God in and through all things were made no less, the Word Of God.
    In and through Jesus we are given access to the status we had formerly in the Garden in that when our nakednes is exposed we are not rejected nor separated from God if and when we acknowledge our nakedness and the things that separate us from God, the Character attributes of the one we follow. No longer is there a need to hide our real character from the face of God. We can be exposed yet not rejected allowing for, in the light of truth, to be changed, to be healed, to be transformed in character to conform to the character of our Character God and the perfect human God’s Son Jesus. This is the Power of The Gospel. It is Spiritual. It is Human. It is infinite.
    As we look back over our lives, as individuals and corporately as a Church we see where we could do better if we acted more in conformity with the Character of the one we follow. As we can afford to be unashamed and not fear rejection by this God of ours who is Love we can ‘confess our sins’ acknowledge the reality and consequences of our ignorance, both intentional and unintentional, and we can move forward determined to be transformed into the likeness of the character of our Creator God as personified in and through the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.
    There is more….

    • I have plenty of ancestors (& you may also) who were known for painting themselves blue & wearing only that into battle. They also practiced human sacrifice. I’m grateful for colonization, clothing, & not having to worry about becoming a bog sacrifice victim.
      Nakedness was & still is to some extent a part of the health culture in Germany & the developed West.
      I think the snake has always been in the garden whether that was Eden or the Amazon.

  16. Jesus made this distinction and I think we need to make this distinction when endeavoring to understand Church history and that is the distinction between authentic discipleship and nominal christianity. It is a tricky area to be sure, thwart by the inconsistencies and faults of human nature yet it is essential to address in a attitude of humility and sincerity. There exists at the same time actions and endeavors that led to positive outcomes while at the same time there were actions and endeavors that led to destructive outcomes.
    At times circumstances necessitate that we come to the conclusion that we got it wrong, very wrong and to ask the inevitable question of how did we get it so wrong? To answer in a very simplified fashion, as a beginning reference point, when our actions and endeavors are informed by and conform to the character of Jesus we are most likely to get it right. When we loose our way and somehow ‘conform Jesus’ to our ‘worldly way of thinking’ we do damage, often untold damage. Not only this, but all to often Jesus is co opted as a legitimizer for actions and endeavors that are essentially ani christ in nature. And so to the Church as a corporate body has at times been co opted to endorse or give respectability to endeavors that are essentially a contradiction of the character of Jesus. As each of us is called to stand naked, to be transparent and seen by God, known for who we are and confess our sins to enable growth in character and deed towards conforming to the character of Jesus, so to has the Body of Christ, as a corporate entity so the same. We are called to listen to those we have sinned against. I believe we are called to look now in this time at the historical realities of the journey of Columbus and the Doctrine of Discovery 1493, the Papal Bull Inter Caetera issued by Pope Alexander VI.

    The “Doctrine of Discovery” and Terra Nullius: A Catholic Response:

    • The third of the five elements in your linked statement reads:
      “We reject the assertion that the principle of the first taker or discoverer, often described today by the terms Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, could be applied to lands already inhabited by Indigenous Peoples.”

      In the United States’ history of westward expansion/conquest, this statement elicits PERPLEXITY at the convoluted nature of human history. Not a justification, but perplexity…

      In the first years after the War for Independence, the convenient rationale for seizure was as “compensation” for the Native American participation on the side of the British. (Opposed to this view, and overruled by the tide of events, was Secretary of State Knox who maintained that the lands could be claimed only if given voluntarily or purchased fairly, or if claimed in consequence of a just war).

      St. Augustine “would say that the people from whom you took these lands had taken them equally unjustly. Our only real excuse for what we do is that there has been an infinite series of plunders, of iniquities behind ours” (Dino Bigongiari, appendix to “The Political Writings of St. Augustine,” 1967; and in the ersatz ethics of today, what of the “rights” of the extinct mammoths, decimated by the hunter-gatherer precursors of the First Nations?).

      I say “perplexing…”

      Maybe a more global ACCORD can be arranged which would include quantified reconciliation in some form of all of the Americas to whomever was on top at an arbitrary date, say 1492; combined with the Islamic restoration of the Middle East and Turkey and North Africa to what it was prior to, say, the seventh and eighth centuries? And then there’s the early British individualized and anti-communal slicing and dicing of lands in India, in the centuries after their first landing in 1608, in order to better facilitate taxation.

      Maybe what it all boils down to today is more than to THE PAST toward restorations in some form (forty acres and a mule?), but also and more, a look to THE FUTURE to better understanding how all of us are simply borrowing planet earth from future generations? NOT a call here for reset-Socialism, but an astute understanding what Catholic Social Teaching means when it affirms BOTH the right to private (and communal?) ownership, AND restraints on the absolutist claim as to how to use what is owned.

    • We are not responsible for the sins of our ancestors. We have no moral obligation to make reparations for the sins of others.

      Having said that, I see no harm in acknowledging that genocidal acts may have been committed by some catholic missionaries or to acknowledge that such facts cause sorrow in us.

  17. Pope Francis is special. Taking one step forward and two steps backward is not the Holy Father’s cup of tea. We are privileged to be living in the era of Pope Francis. Long live the Pontiff.

    • Just a few more thoughts to add to my comments above. So the great commission became an interplay with colonisation and I think it is fair to say things got pretty mixed up. So how do we proceed with the great commission? Can Pope Francis’s words and actions be seen in the light of a continuation of the great commission? During the evening I put a few thoughts to paper on my experience of conversion :

      The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to become whole, to be healed, to become well integrated in mind body and spirit. All sin wounds us and others and also as it separates us from relationship with God. To follow Jesus is to begin to undo the wages of sin, to be transformed with the flow on effect of contributing to the transforming of the world. This is the great commission. To transform the world into the likeness of Jesus, the likeness of God the Father Son and Holy Spirit. This transformation can not be achieved by legislation because by necessity it is a transformation of the heart, of the will and internet, and of the mind. An authentic and voluntary reorientation of the human quest, both individually and corporately as the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the community of the ‘sanctified by grace’ in and through the person of Jesus empowered and informed by the Holy Spirit. A unity in this endeavour does not imply cultural uniformity but can be worked towards and expressed in the various ethnic communities and nations.
      There is so much to this topic I feel I have barely begun. What also needs to be said is there is often much in common with the message of Jesus within indigenous spirituality. What did the apostle Paul do when preaching in Athens I think it was. He saughtca common ground in appealing to his listeners that before them was an alter to the unknown god. He then proceeded to make that God known.

  18. Refusing to raise people up out of barbarism, paganism and Stone Age technology seems worse than teaching them a better way.

    If Catholics resorted to brutality when interacting with primitive people, they are rightly condemned.

    If force was used to spread the faith, that too is rightly condemned.

    To paint all Canadian missionaries with the broad designation of genocide, that is wrong.

    I do not believe Pope Francis was doing that, condemning all missionary efforts as genocide. The distinctions are substantive, required and determinative.

  19. The author is clearly more optimistic than I if he thinks that Dr. Johnson could modify Pope Francis’ views about anything. First of all, he would have to read him, which is highly unlikely. Second, he would have, in addition to reading, to mark, learn, inwardly digest, which is even more unlikely. In short, Mr. Short, this pope is not likely to be lessoned. More’s the pity since Dr. J. has much to teach us about many things.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Opinion: What Dr. Johnson can teach Pope Francis – Via Nova Media
  2. Opinion: What Dr. Johnson can teach Pope Francis | Passionists Missionaries Kenya, Vice Province of St. Charles Lwanga, Fathers & Brothers
  3. TVESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

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