A 500-Year-Old Papal Bull That Led Europeans Into 'The New World'

Simon Moya-Smith

Well, folks, Mitt the Mormon has locked the GOP presidential candidacy, and for the first time in 10 years I’m giving serious consideration to spending the morning of Nov. 6 at the beach or bar or breakfast table—anywhere but that vile voting booth.

But we’re not talking about my waning will to vote here, or about the royal race for the American crown, or the fact that Mittens and his fellow didactic, dogmatic Mormon congregates inexorably believe that American Indians are the direct descendants of thieves and thugs, sinners and sots.

No. We’ll examine that mawkish Mormon-based Lamanite mythology another time. Today, we’re talking about Catholicism, the Sisters of Loretto and the former nun Mary Helen Sandoval of Denver.

Sandoval said she and her fellow Sisters of Loretto, a national organization of nuns, non-Catholics and human rights activists, are drafting a proposition that demands Pope Benedict XVI immediately repeal Inter Caetera—a more than 500-year-old papal bull that inarguably opened the floodgates to land, gold, and slave-seeking European settlers into the “New World.”

Their “New World” is our “old country.” Remember that. But I digress.

According to Sandoval, the Sisters of Loretto will celebrate their bicentennial with an assembly July 17 to 23 in St. Louis, Mo. It will be at this function that Sandoval and 40 other Denver members will present their proposition to a delegation of 35 voting nuns.

If the proposition passes, Sandoval said, then it’s off to the pope in Vatican City for his review or rejection.

“If we had any sense that the proposal that we take to St. Louis would not pass, then we wouldn’t take it to the assembly,” Sandoval said with tinge of confidence.

“Let’s say the proposal passes,” I said. “Are you optimistic about the pope’s response should you receive one?”

“No,” Sandoval said gruffly. “I think that his response will be just the same as it’s been since people first asked that (Inter Caetera) be rescinded.”

“And have you the full support of your congregation?” I pressed.

“There are definitely people in the community that will probably hesitate to confront the pope,” she said. “I would not say that is the majority of people in this community … the majority of people in this community at this point are pretty disgusted with the pope. Pretty disgusted is a mild way of saying it.”

Sandoval, whose stint as a nun lasted only three and a half years, said that she learned of Inter Caetera in January during an assembly at the University of Denver when an unnamed speaker reeled about the sour edict’s vicious vernacular.

“People don’t know,” Sandoval said. “People are ignorant about it the same as I am. I think in general there needs to be education about what the Inter Caetera says.”

Following that conversation, I tried to contact a priest and see if a random cleric is familiar with the papal bull and whether or not they’d support Sandoval and the Sisters.

I ambled into the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Denver and demanded to speak “to the priest on duty” about Inter Caetera and its foul pseudo-pious language.

Suddenly, some officious oaf in khakis gripped me from behind and two cops helped him remove me from the church like a drunkard and said I was “causing a scene.”

“What do you guys know about Inter Caetera?” I shouted.

“Get out!” one barked.

Yes, I could’ve easily called and made an appointment under false pretenses and slipped in questions about the papal bull like some gangly grifter, but frankly where’s the fun in that? And secondly, it’s been my experience that neither conservative Catholic nor blind patriot is eager to discuss the bevy of skeletons in the dingy American closet.


I called Sandoval back a couple hours later and asked her why she and her 40 fellow members would like to see Inter Caetera abolished.

“The whole Doctrine of Discovery has influenced legal decisions—influenced the way our whole legal system treated American Indian people in the past, but it still influences it today because that’s not been gotten rid of,” she said excitedly. “That’s what’s so horrific about it. I mean, it’s bad enough that that was ever (enacted) in the first place back in the 1400s, but the fact that it was used in legal decisions as a reasoning, really, for the annihilation (of Native Americans).”

Sandoval said she is no longer Catholic, and neither am I for that matter.

There was a time when I was Catholic, but those days are over now and for reasons too bloody and God awful to reel about here. It’s not every day a 200-year-old national Catholic organization is poised to take on the pope for injustices against indigenous peoples. Indeed.

This would be a fine time to light some sage. And that’s what I’m off to do. Hopefully some of the sacred smoke will waft its way through the hallowed halls of the Vatican and sway the pope into doing the right thing. If he can canonize Kateri Tekakwitha, he can rescind Inter Caetera. Yes, sir.

Simon Moya-Smith, 28, is an Oglala Lakota journalist and blogger from Denver. He’ll attend Columbia University School of Journalism in the fall.

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kenschaefer's picture
The Pope is Benedict the XVI not IV
theartistt's picture
Well written. I'm off to burn some sage, too.
editors's picture
Thank you. Fixed.
johngreaves's picture
Simon - Your description of Mormonism is superficial, misleading and does not reflect the beliefs of its members. You clearly can write. I wish you the best of luck at Columbia. I hope that you pick up the habit of rhetorical restraint on the way. If you wish to pan Mormons in the future, perhaps you should exercise some intellectual curiosity and find out what they actually believe today.
forbiss's picture
John Greaves's remonstrance is offered in good faith, yet, understandably, reveals an unfamiliarity with this reporter's record & predictable reliance upon the degradation & mal-characterization of entities of which he knows full well is his admission to media attention. Notable other chastisements have tightened his purview & array of targets; and, experience and prudence have foreclosed his once vaunted banner of a no-holds-barred discourse. But beyond any other feature that guides decisions about the pinpointing of prey, Moya-S. chooses only those miscreants who've already been attacked & softened up a bit. Concerning his and Sandoval's newfound revelation, though a bit vague about the date-"in the 1400s"--Moya-S.'s journalistic credentials are patently anomalous to those of prestigious ICTMN columnist, Steven Newcomb, whose seminal work "Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery" & and subsequent articles cite more substantively the invidious legacy of Intera Caetera and its close edicts of the same era. That Sandoval completed the steps to become a nun initially without a modicum of cognizance of Inter Caetera eludes Moya-S.
rezzdog's picture
Belief of the members does not mean beliefs of the institution.
curtj's picture
In 1453 Pope Nicholas V issued papal bull Pontifex Romanus, giving the churches blessings and sanctions for Portugal to invade and conquer West Africa, in exchange for part of the loot and lands. In 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued papal bull inter caetera, giving the catholic churches blessings for Spain to invade and conquer our lands, in exchange for part of the loot and lands. Our so called leaders are indoctrinated in the colonial way of addressing the Indigenous peoples grievances. They think inside of a philisophical and idealogical box foisted on them by the colonial powers who's policies of colonialism with its theft and murder, results in terrorist attacks. These terrorist attacks are by people incensed at the colonial powers invading their countries, in order to enable the transglobal muti national oil, energy and mining monopolies to steal their minerals and natural resources and lands. Our CIA sets up and manipulates assassinations and coups to destabilize governments, for despot dictator puppet regimes to get into power, bribed to subjugate their people by any means possible, with intimidation, terror, rape, kidnappings and murder, to allow the neo conservative owned oil and energy monopolies to steal their resources. The vatican is built on top of the bodies of millions of Indigenous people, murdered and enslaved for profit off stolen resources. Why do Indigenous people worship the white mans Jesus when his name is invoked to legalize the resource and land theft as well as the genocide of the Indigenous people?