Pope Benedict XVI to Beatify Priest Who Tortured

John Allen reports on the upcoming beatification of 498 Catholics who were killed in the Spanish Civl War. Fr. Gabino Olaso Zabala, however, was involved in the torture of a Filipino priest.

According to written testimony from the victim, Olaso participated in the 1896 torture of a Filipino priest named Fr. Mariano Dacanay, who was suspected of sympathy for anti-Spanish revolutionaries. Dacanay’s own account asserts that Olaso and a handful of other Augustinians encouraged guards who were administering the torture, and that at one point Olaso himself kicked Dacanay in the head, hard enough to leave the suffering priest semi-conscious.

Historians generally regard Dacanay’s testimony as credible. Augustinian Fr. Fernando Rojo, the Rome-based postulator for the cause of 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 Dacanay’s account.

Allen offers the excuse, “To be sure, Olaso’s conduct must be understood in the context of his times, since the late 1890s were a violent era in the Philippines.”

But he was a priest, a representative of the Prince of Peace, whose teachings of non-violence have been spread for 2000 years. That’s the true historical context.

And what of the historical context for this beatification–the world today?

Nonetheless, the revelation that someone set for beatification by Pope Benedict XVI was a willing participant in torture may be disconcerting – in the first place for Filipinos, who see the 1896 rebellion as a key moment in the birth of their nation; and more broadly for those concerned with contemporary moral and legal debates over torture, especially in the context of the “war on terrorism.” Despite clear official Catholic teaching against torture, some may wonder if the church is sending a mixed message by beatifying someone who apparently administered torture himself.

Update: See discussion at Commonweal.

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