Claude Lacaille a Quebec missionary has written a powerful memoir entitled Rebel Priest in the Time of Tyrants: Mission to Haiti, Ecuador and Chile (Baraka Books, June 2015). Lacaille was a committed Vatican ll priest who took the gospel seriously and entered into deep solidarity with the exploited poor of Haiti, Ecuador and Chile.
Lacaille reminds us of that generation of priests who were inspired by Council’s call to serve the poorest of the poor. In this way he is very close to the present pope who has shaken to the core church careerists who wouldn’t know a picket line, a slum or the struggling poor in whom Christ especially dwells.
Lacaille describes himself as “a disciple of Jesus the son of Vatican ll.” In other words he is not one of those “set decorator priests” that Eugene Kennedy describes. You remember those young fogeys, seminarians in Rome who chanted “Subito santo’” (Make him a saint now!) about their patron JP ll as he was being buried. As you will see Lacaille is not a fan of JP ll or his successor Benedict XVl both who failed in their attempts to dynamite Vatican ll
This is a moving book.
As an introduction to the book and the man, here is the first part of an open letter Lacaille wrote to Pope Benedict. It was published in Montreal’s Le Devoir, May 16,2007
Open letter to My Brother, Benedict XVl
I’m writing this letter to you because I need to communicate with the pastor of the Catholic Church and that there are no communication channels to reach you.
I’m addressing myself to you as a brother in faith and in priesthood, since we’ve both together received the mission of announcing the Gospel of Jesus to all nations.
I’m a Quebec missionary Priest for 45 years now; I committed myself with enthusiasm to the Lord’s service, at the opening of the Vatican II Ecumenical Council. I was led to work closely with particularly poor environments: in the Bolosse neighborhood in Port-au-Prince under François Duvalier, then with the Quichuas in Ecuador, and finally in a working-class neighborhood in Santiago, Chile, under Pinochet’s dictatorship.
When I read the Gospels of Jesus during my high school years, I was impressed by the crowds of poor and down-and-outs of life that Jesus surrounded Himself with whereas the many Priests who accompanied us in that Catholic college only spoke about sexual morality. On board the plane that was taking you to Brazil, you more than once condemned Liberation Theology as a false millennialism and a misguided mixture of Church and Politics. I was deeply shocked and wounded by your words.
I had read and re-read both instructions published by ex-cardinal Ratzinger on this topic.They describe a straw man which absolutely doesn’t reflect my life’s experiences and my beliefs.I didn’t have to read Karl Marx to discover the preferential option for the poor.
Liberation Theology, is not a doctrine, a theory; it’s a way of living the Gospel in proximity and in solidarity with excluded and impoverished people. It’s indecent to thus publicly condemn faithful who have dedicated their lives, and we are tens of thousands of laypersons, religious, and Priests from all over who have followed the same path. I don’t understand this doggedness and harassment we are subject to.
Just before your trip to Brazil, you silenced and dismissed from Catholic teaching Father Jon Sobrino, a committed and dedicated theologian, companion of Jesuits martyrs in Salvador and of Mgr Romero. This 70 year-old man served the Church of Latin America with courage and humility thanks to his teachings.
I lived through the dictatorship of Pinochet in Chile, in a Church bravely guided by an exceptional pastor, Cardinal Raúl Silva Henriquez. Under his guidance, we accompanied a people who were terrorized by a fascist military who pretended to defend Western Christian Civilization by torturing, jailing, eliminating and assassinating.
I lived for years in a working-class neighborhood particularly touched by repression, La Bandera. Yes, I hid people; yes, I helped some flee the country; yes, I helped people save their lives; yes, I participated in hunger strikes. I also dedicated those years to reading the Bible with people in working-class neighborhoods. Hundreds of persons discovered the Word of God, and that helped them face the oppression with Faith and courage, convinced that God would accompany them.
I organized soup kitchens, and craft workshops to help ex-political prisoners re-insert themselves in society. I picked up assassinated bodies at the morgue and gave them a burial worthy of men. I promoted and defended human rights, under threats for my physical integrity and my life. Yes, most of the victims of the dictator were Marxists, and we made ourselves close because these people were our neighbors. And we sang and hoped together for the end of this disgrace. We dreamed together of freedom.
Published in Le Devoir of May 16, 2007 part 1