Bartolomé de Las Casas:
A Man for All Seasons?
Today, into this house,
Father, come in with me
I will show you the letters,
the torment
of my people, of man
I will show you the ancient
—Pablo Neruda,
‘‘Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas’’
from the time he found
his ‘‘road to Damascus’’ in 1514, until his
death in 1566, Father Bartolomé de Las Casas waged an unparalleled strug-
gle to obtain legislation to protect the well-being of the indigenous people of
the Americas. The cleric, who first presented his grievances and his re-
medios to the king in 1516, evolved into the elder bishop-statesman who in
1566 wrote Pope Pius V asking him to order the king to improve the
treatment of the Indians. The last years of his life showed a Las Casas no
longer bent on prescribing but someone still trusting that those in power
would act in the best interest of even their poorest subjects. That was why he
asked the pontiff to excommunicate and anathematize those who declared
war on the Indians. Ironically, Las Casas, who never learned any native
languages, also asked that the pope should require the bishops to learn the
native language of the people in their American dioceses. He also asked the
pontiff to order the bishops to take personal care of the natives and to defend
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