“Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church 1934

The Catholic Church has long been a champion of human rights, contrary to the beliefs of her detractors.

When it comes to the Americas, the Church actually banned enslavement of Native Peoples (and all others) nearly 500 years ago.

When the New World was discovered, there was speculation whether the natives of these new lands were “true humans.” Amid the mistreatment of natives by Conquistadores and colonialists, a council of Missionaries in Mexico sent a representative to the pope to plead their case.

In response, on June 2, 1537, Pope Paul III issued the papal bull entitled “Sublimis Deus,” forbidding slavery and punishing those who do so with automatic excommunication.

He declared indigenous peoples of the Americas to be “truly men and that they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic Faith but, according to our information, they desire exceedingly to receive it.” He also denounced any idea to the contrary as being directly inspired by the “enemy of the human race” i.e., Satan.

Furthermore, he entitled their rights to liberty and property, and declared the enslavement of anyone to be null and void at the time and for the future in perpetuity.

Prominent Catholic theologian and philosopher Father Gustavo Gutiérrez calls the papal bull the most important one relating to the treatment of Indigenous peoples, and says it is addressed to all Christians. Famed religious sociologist Rodney Stark calls it “magnificent,” adding that in his opinion it “belatedly came to light due to the neglect of Protestant historians.”

Pope Paul III, pray for us!

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