Beatifying a torturer

Bill Cork on John Allen on Pope Benedict's upcoming beatification of Fr. Gabino Olaso Zabala. First Allen:

According to written testimony from the victim, Olasoparticipated in the 1896 torture of a Filipino priest named Fr. MarianoDacanay, who was suspected of sympathy for anti-Spanishrevolutionaries. Dacanays own account asserts that Olaso and a handfulof other Augustinians encouraged guards who were administering thetorture, and that at one point Olaso himself kicked Dacanay in thehead, hard enough to leave the suffering priest semi-conscious.

Historians generally regard Dacanays testimony as credible.Augustinian Fr. Fernando Rojo, the Rome-based postulator for the causeof Olaso and the other Augustinian martyrs, told NCR Oct. 10 that he does not see any reason to doubt the basic historical accuracy of the facts contained in Dacanays account.

Then Cork:

Allen offers the excuse, To be sure, Olasos conduct must beunderstood in the context of his times, since the late 1890s were aviolent era in the Philippines.

But he was a priest, a representative of the Prince of Peace, whoseteachings of non-violence have been spread for 2000 years. Thats thetrue historical context.

And what of the historical context for this beatificationthe world today?

Then Allen:

Nonetheless, the revelation that someone set for beatification by PopeBenedict XVI was a willing participant in torture may be disconcerting- in the first place for Filipinos, who see the 1896 rebellion as a keymoment in the birth of their nation; and more broadly for thoseconcerned with contemporary moral and legal debates over torture,especially in the context of the war on terrorism. Despite clearofficial Catholic teaching against torture, some may wonder if thechurch is sending a mixed message by beatifying someone who apparentlyadministered torture himself.

Me: "Disconcerting"? You don't say. How about "appalling"? Too strong? After all, torture was all the rage in late-nineteenth-century Philippines. And, let's not forget, Olaso isn't the first beatified guy with a "checkered past." As Allen points out, St. Mark Ji Tianxiang was canonized in 2000 even though he was a known opium addict. And Fr. Jean-Marie Gallot was beatified in 1955 despite the discovery that he had been a Mason. See, not all saints led spotless lives.

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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