The Strange Case of the Monk in the Shower – Questions Surrounding the Death of Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton's greatest journey, across the US in 1968 to meet with the Dalai Lama in Asia. PHOTO: via Kickstarter

By Patricia Lefevere

THOMAS MERTON SOCIETY — Priests are an endangered species. Hardly a month passes without headlines of a priest murdered in Africa. Cameroon, Central African Republic, Nigeria and South Sudan have all lost Catholic clergy this year due to violence. Two years ago an ICIS jihadist stabbed and slit the throat of an elderly French priest on his parish altar in Normandy.

Catholics are now praying to St. Oscar Romero, canonized in October just 38 years after he was shot by an assassin as he lifted the host in the act of consecration. Scores of missionaries in Latin America, Asia and Africa have lost their lives to violence since Romero’s killing in 1980.

But what about Trappist monk Thomas Merton, whose death 50 years ago this week (Dec. 10, 1968) in Bangkok, Thailand is being marked by thousands of his devoted readers? Was he murdered by CIA or other assassins for his outspokenness against the Vietnam War, his critical stance on nuclear weapons, on made-in-America racism, or his cry against capitalism’s empire-building by way of global violence?

In The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton, an Investigation, Hugh Turley and David Martin conjecture that the monk was struck in the back of the head by either a pointed object or a bullet fired from a gun with a silencer while in his room at the Sawangke Vivas center, 15 miles south of Bangkok. Merton and other religious were staying at the center while attending an international meeting of Catholic abbots. The monk had returned to his room after giving a speech earlier that morning and after eating lunch. […]

2 Comments on The Strange Case of the Monk in the Shower – Questions Surrounding the Death of Thomas Merton

  1. People who are shot in the head bleed a great deal. If a gunshot wound to the head was the cause of death there would be a significant pool of blood and little doubt as to what caused it. If there was no exit wound, a simple x-ray would suffice to determine the cause of death. No autopsy would be necessary.

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