Parish also finds it providential that Las Casas' next great crusade at court, in 1542, coincided with the return to Spain of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was so outraged that he personally investigated the charges and instituted the "New Laws" at Las Casas' request.
In fact, the reforms Las Casas extracted from the Crown and the Holy See were routinely sabotaged by powerful colonists and corrupt officials. In 1532, his anti-slavery sermons caused such an uproar that he was forbidden to preach for two years. In Nicaragua, angry settlers dragged him from his pulpit and drove him and his entourage into the jungle. In Chiapas, Mexico, where he was sent as bishop in 1544, parishioners responded to his demand that they free their slaves by denying food to him and his missionaries.
The effect of the papal bull of 1537 was blunted when the provision for excommunication was dropped. Even the "New Laws" were compromised when Charles V, after accepting a gift of 2 million ducats from Peru's slave owners, revoked the section providing for a phasing out of the \o7 encomienda.\f7
The salient point, Parish says, is that Las Casas persisted in the face of such obstacles for 50 years. That is the kind of "heroic virtue" the church expects of its saints.
From the formal opening of the cause to the beatification to final recognition of sainthood, canonization can be a lengthy and expensive process. Preparing the \o7 positio, \f7 or Latin summary of a candidate's life and qualifications, and the extensive historical and medical research needed to "authenticate" a miracle can cost a bundle.
The controversial cause of Junipero Serra, who was declared "venerable" in 1985, was helped by millions raised from wealthy California Catholics, by White House connections and the tireless stewardship of Father Noel Francis Moholy, vice postulator of the Franciscan order. Likewise, the beatification in May of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of the secretive and influential Opus Dei order, resulted from one of the most concerted efforts the Vatican has ever seen.
"The Dominicans, though they can boast of more canonized saints than any order, are notorious for being slipshod when it comes to pushing causes," admits Father Antoninus Wall, a past president of the Dominican Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley and a Parish admirer. In fact, he notes, non-Dominicans seem more active in the cause than Dominicans, not out of any lack of respect for Las Casas but simply because "we aren't PR oriented."
The Dominicans informally decided to press for sainthood for Las Casas in 1983, according to Father Innocenzo Venchi, the Dominican postulator general in Rome who oversees candidates for sainthood from his order. Two years later, in January, 1985, the cause received a further boost when \o7 Lascasitas\f7 gathered at a Berkeley symposium that Parish helped organize. Featuring talks by prominent Las Casas scholars, the proceedings concluded with Dominican Master General Damian Burn calling on members of the order to pray for the canonization of Las Casas.
They're still praying. Venchi, a 60-year-old \o7 piemontese \f7 who has handled hundreds of causes in his 17 years as procurator general of the order, says that the Las Casas campaign, in the absence of strong institutional support, might have withered on the vine were it not for the fiery advocacy of individuals such as Parish, whose scholarly contributions he describes as "very important."
A BITTER DAY OF WIND AND FOG IN THE EAST BAY. ONCE AGAIN WE ARE talking of sainthood. "Best definition I've heard was a child's," Parish says. "The clergyman asked him, 'What do you think a saint is?' and the child, who has never seen anything but the figures in the stained glass window, says, 'The saint is the fellow the light shines through.' " That's Las Casas, she believes. If only she could get the Vatican to go along with her.
The most immediate problem facing Parrish and the \o7 Lascasitas\f7 is overcoming concern about his temperament and his methods, Parish says. "He has been accused, quite incorrectly, of two shortcomings which would, were they true, raise an impediment to canonization," she explains. "One is that he meant well but exaggerated everything. He was a lawyer, he was pleading a cause, and he made up all this stuff about the atrocities. The other is that though he defended the Indians, he was for Negro slavery and had some responsibility for introducing slavery into the New World."