The Vatican, Trump and Immigrant Crimes

Recent forays into religion and hide-bound theology have left me bruised, scarred and probably without grace. So you will forgive me if I look for cover, this time in the shadow of Flannery O’Connor, my favorite Catholic novelist, who took great pleasure in raising and learning from her pea chickens in Milledgeville, Georgia.

I will take the liberty of calling her Flannery because I sent a poem to Ms. O’Connor’s mother on her daughter’s premature death from lupus. It was called “Clayborn Possibilities” and explored the remarkable writings the author created out of the formless and everyday stuff she encountered in the bible-thumping South. The author seemed to consider references to clay almost divine in origin.

But she also possessed a scathing wit when it came to theological matters. Flannery was an orthodox Catholic but reminded us she was obliged to draw large and startling figures in her fiction if the blind were to see and the lame walk. For example, in her novel “Wise Blood” the protagonist Hazel Motes starts a church called the Church of Christ without Christ as his way of tempting fate. Only when he blinds himself with lye does he see through to the truth. This is a dose of redemption theology mixed with a hint of Southern grotesque.

Flannery O’Connor has literally nothing to say about politics, though politicians must be familiar with her, given all the large and startling End-of-Days pronouncements we are currently hearing on the Presidential campaign trail. In this spirit, I would like to climb aboard this political bandwagon and say, Flannery still at my right hand, that the Vatican created Donald Trump and the rest of that anti-immigrant parade. Hold that thought.

I just signed a petition initiated by the Romero Institute of Peace and Justice in Santa Cruz, CA, calling for Pope Francis to revoke the “three 15th century papal bulls historically identified as ‘The Doctrine of Discovery.’” These bulls basically gave Portugal and Spain, in particular, the right to subjugate, colonize, persecute, enslave and convert the native populations largely in the Americas. In other words, the European nations stole land, culture and spirit from the indigenous peoples.

Let me be clear. This descriptive language is mine. It is far too inflammatory for the good people at the Romero Institute to send to Pope Francis. But the petition does note, more politely, that indigenous people were “enslaved, murdered and forcibly removed from their native lands.”

The petition also notes that Francis has already affirmed the sacred nature of Indigenous peoples’ land and their right to have discussion with their respective governments about these issues. The petition invites an important new alliance between the Church and the Indigenous peoples of the world who identify with nature and changes in climate.

Perhaps the most important implication associated with the revocation of this Doctrine is that Indigenous nations would have the right to petition the U.S. government about its body of Indian Property Law. The Doctrine of Discovery has become a pillar upon which so much unjust legal opinions rest, including the U.S. Supreme Court decisions as recently as 2005.

The authors of the petition acknowledge that revocation of this Doctrine will not immediately compel any specific legal remedy. But it would acknowledge that the edifice of the U.S. federal law lacks any continuing moral foundation. In other words,the colonization of the Western hemisphere under the authority of the three papal bulls can be described with appropriate understatement as unethical, immoral and unchristian. Trump might want to autocorrect his statement about immigrants from the south being rapists and murderers and, with a nod to Flannery O’Connor, study the mote in his own eye.

The Vatican has made it very clear that the Hispanic and Portuguese citizens of the Americas represent the future of Catholicism in the region. Pope Francis could put this evangelizing on a solid moral footing by rescinding the Doctrine of Discovery, which has left deep psychological wounds on the Americas.

Land and property aside, perhaps the most profound effect this Doctrine has had on Indigenous peoples is psychological. In his “Indian Mirror: The Making of the Brazilian Soul,” Roberto Gambini looks at this experience through an archetypal or Jungian lens, showing how the Doctrine of Discovery still haunts the Brazilian soul and the country’s sense of identity. In the eyes of the conquering Jesuits, Brazil was a vulgar, untamed Eden that was populated by the devil’s children. Baptism was a weapon of conquest. Slavery would be a holy thing. Promiscuity must be eliminated at all costs. This was also a war on the feminine.

Gambini suggests that, for the conquering Jesuits, the archetype of the natural man was always linked with evil, sin, and depravity. The author has been a good inspiration. I explore the wider theological roots of these themes in my novel “Chanting the Feminine Down,” to be published in early 2016.