The Catholic Church has formally rejected a 15th Century “doctrine of discovery” used to justify European colonisation of Africa and the Americas.
The doctrine, which was based on decrees set out on the so-called “papal bulls”, was legally invoked by Europeans who "discovered" new lands and often violently seized it from the indigenous people.
But in a statement on Thursday, the Vatican said the doctrine was "not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church" even as it still informs current state policies and laws.
“Historical research clearly demonstrates that the papal documents in question, written in a specific historical period and linked to political questions, have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith," it said.
The Vatican said the Catholic church was acknowledging that the papal edicts did not reflect the “equal dignity and rights of indigenous people”.
It said that it was aware the documents were manipulated for political purposes by colonial powers to justify “immoral acts”.
It said these were at times done “without opposition from ecclesiastical authorities”.
“It is only just to recognise these errors, acknowledge the terrible effects of the assimilation policies and the pain experienced by indigenous peoples, and ask for pardon,” it said.