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What was the relationship between the church and indigenous slavery?

The Church had a complex relationship with indigenous slavery, often condoning it but also advocating for indigenous rights.

The relationship between the Church and indigenous slavery was multifaceted and evolved over time. Initially, the Church played a significant role in legitimising and perpetuating the institution of slavery. The Papal Bull 'Dum Diversas', issued in 1452 by Pope Nicholas V, granted the kings of Spain and Portugal the right to reduce any "Saracens, pagans and any other unbelievers" to perpetual slavery. This was interpreted to include the indigenous peoples of the New World, thus providing a religious justification for the enslavement of Native Americans.

However, the Church was not a monolithic entity and there were voices within it that opposed the mistreatment of indigenous peoples. Notably, Bartolomé de las Casas, a 16th-century Spanish Dominican friar, became an outspoken critic of the brutal treatment of indigenous peoples in the Spanish colonies. He advocated for the rights of the indigenous peoples, arguing that they were rational beings with souls that needed to be saved, not enslaved. His efforts led to the New Laws of 1542, which aimed to protect the indigenous peoples from enslavement by the Spanish colonists.

Despite these efforts, the Church's stance on indigenous slavery remained ambiguous. While the Church officially condemned the enslavement of indigenous peoples, it often turned a blind eye to the practice, particularly when it was beneficial to its interests. For instance, the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order, owned plantations in South America that were worked by enslaved indigenous peoples. The Church also benefited from the 'encomienda' system, a form of forced labour that was widely used in the Spanish colonies.

In conclusion, the Church's relationship with indigenous slavery was complex and contradictory. While it officially condemned the practice, it often condoned it in practice. At the same time, there were individuals within the Church who advocated for the rights of indigenous peoples and sought to end their enslavement. This reflects the broader tensions within the Church between its spiritual ideals and its worldly interests.

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