Doctrine of Discovery


The Doctrine of Discovery holds keys for the faith community to understand its role in these times of both ecological crisis and calls for justice.

The Doctrine of Discovery refers to a system of beliefs and 15th century Papal Bulls that gave permission for Christian colonizers to ‘invade, capture, subdue, and vanquish all pagans and Saracens’, who were seen as enemies of Christ. As a result the lands and possessions of indigenous peoples were seized and slavery was authorized in perpetuity. These beliefs, reinforced by a theology of ‘domination’ declaring humans to have dominion over the earth and all it’s creatures have led us down a dangerous path, resulting in the genocide of indigenous peoples across the globe, enslavement, exploitation and the degradation of our planet. As people of faith, we have the power and the responsibility to examine the truth of these ideologies and indeed, rapidly correct our course. 

Our Work

A Letter to Pope Francis

Mindahi Bastida presents a letter to Pope Francis asking for support for indigenous peoples to protect and restore sacred sites in the world and to rescind the historical Papal Bulls, affecting indigenous peoples lives and territories.

Read his full statement.

Statements in Faith

CEE Field Ed student, Petra Thombs mobilized an effort to engage and educate the Union Theological Seminary Community on the Doctrine of Discovery resulting in a letter to the Vatican signed by Union President, Serene Jones. 

Learn More.

Our Work

Addressing Inter-Generational Trauma Brings About Both Healing and Policy Change

CEE’s Mindahi Bastida, Deputy Mayor of St. Pete, Kanika Tomalin and Sharon Joy Kleitsch at Sacred Lands Preservation and Education. October, 2019.

In a multi-year relationship, CEE worked with community members in St. Petersburg, Florida. In 2019, Mindahi Bastida joined them to celebrate the city’s Proclamation of its first Indigenous People’s Day and for an OPEN Conversation about Indigenous People’s rights, the consequences of the Doctrine of Discovery, original caretaker’s wisdom, history and connection to the land.

Our Work

“Our nation is going through a painful reckoning with systemic racism and worsening economic inequity, so the “environment” can seem to be a lesser concern. But as many Native American and Black voices have pointed out, ecological, racial and economic issues have always been intertwined.”

CEE Director, Karenna Gore wrote recently on the concept of ‘domination’ as it is playing out in this time of COVID-19 and Ecological Crisis for World Environment Day 2020.

What We Offer

Doctrine of Discovery Film Screenings with Guided Q & A

The Center for Earth Ethics prioritizes studying and understanding the Doctrine of Discovery and it’s long standing consequences. We offer screenings of “Unmasking the Domination Code” with Q&A guided by CEE Team members and Special Guests for Union Seminary and at public events. Please inquire if you would like to request one for your community or congregation. 



Our Work

CEE Hosted Indigenous Leaders and Vatican Representative for Dialogue on a New Development Paradigm

Addressing Inter-Generational Trauma Brings About Both Healing and Policy Change

Union Theological Seminary Community Adds Their Voices for Change

From the blog

What is the Doctrine of Discovery? Why is it relevant in our world today?

In a nut shell, the Doctrine of Discovery, which is based on the Papal Bulls of the fifteenth century, is the origin of the European colonization, providing the answer as to why and how the actual degradation of peoples and nations began globally. For me, as a historian, knowing this… Read more

Reflections on the Doctrine of Discovery Conference

Attending the conference on the Doctrine of Discovery, provided an opportunity to deepen our collective understanding of these edicts, which are based on the Papal Bulls issued by the Catholic Church in the fifteenth century. I find that I always have to start at the beginning in discussing this because… Read more

Letters to the Vatican – CEE Field Ed

After many months of hard work, we couldn’t be more proud to see 2016-2017 CEE Field Ed Student, Petra Thombs, as she prepares a letter to Pope Francis on March 22nd – World Water Day.  This letter joins Union Theological Seminary in the choir of voices asking His Holiness to… Read more

A Message to Pope Francis – Rescind the Doctrine of Discovery

Last June several CEE staff traveled to Rome and Assisi to take part in the Rome/Assisi Conference on Spirituality and Sustainability. CEE was one of the conveners along with Center for Ethics. Part of that dialogue included speaking truth about the role the Catholic Church played in the genocide of… Read more