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. […]