Columbus was a thug. But the church was the big problem


I don’t understand the adulation that some Italian-Americans continue to bestow on Christopher Columbus, who, as history demonstrates, was less a hero than a thug, exploiting and enslaving indigenous peoples. But the real culprit behind the subjugation of non-European peoples across the globe wasn’t an individual, or even a monarch. It was the Roman Catholic Church. It’s time the church owned that grievous mistake.

 As early as the 15th century, as European nations were making voyages of discovery, Catholic popes gave them permission to subjugate and steal. The most significant of these papal permission slips was the Doctrine of Discovery. A decree Issued in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, it essentially told Catholic countries that any lands they “discovered” were theirs to keep and exploit, provided the inhabitants were not Christians but heathens ripe for conversion.

Popes issue lots of decrees, but this one stuck. The Doctrine of Discovery proved to be very popular with monarchs across Europe, Catholic and Protestant alike. Its impact has been felt in Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Americas. The idea was simple and attractive: Plant a flag and a cross on a land not claimed by any other Christian ruler, and it’s yours. 

The doctrine also served to legitimize the seizure of lands by white American settlers. In considering an Illinois property dispute that came before the Supreme Court in 1823, Chief Justice John Marshall referred to the discovery doctrine to rule that Native Americans couldn’t sell their lands — since they hadn’t “owned” them in the first place…..