Monday, October 29, 2007

Vatican Beatifies Allies of General Franco

In a deliberate move by the Vatican to undermine the upcoming 'law of historical memory', 498 members of the Catholic clergy killed during the Spanish civil war were beatified yesterday. Supporters of the beatification claim it was a long-awaited recognition for the "martyrs" of religious persecution. According to one bishop,

'The beatification is beyond controversy or partisan use. They were men and women who were peaceful and persecuted and suffered death for the simple fact that they were Catholic.'

Only, it was not simply because they were Catholic at all.

The Catholic church played a massive role in the repression of the poor during pre-war Spain. One hundred years before the war, the Bishop of Osma had established the Society of the Exterminating Angel. Founded in 1821, it was established to ensure the extermination of all Liberals in Spain. The Archbishop of Valencia ordered the hanging of a deist schoolmaster in 1827, for heresy. The victim, Cayetano Ripoll was tried and convicted without hearing his defence or being allowed to give evidence. He was initially sentenced to be burnt to death, but this was subsequently changed to hanging. After his death, his body was pulled apart and burned. The church in Spain was very much linked to the wealthy classes in Spanish society and this was reflected in Claudio Moyano's dictum that 'the poor should be respectful and humble with the rich'. It was during this period in the 19th century, that the poor began to lose faith with the Catholic church, indeed they began to loathe it.

It is, perhaps, little wonder that the people rose up against the church at the first opportunity. After all, it has been behind many sickening examples of violence and oppression. The church had become immensely powerful within Spain and had given up all pretence of aiding the weak and the poor. It is hard to blame those who fought back against years of repression by members of the church who played an active role in keeping the poor in their place. But these are facts easily ignored by the Catholic church.

Not only was the church a malevolent factor before the civil war, it remained one during and after. The Catholic church gave a great deal of support to Franco and his nationalists. Throughout his 40 year reign, Franco stuck by Catholic ideals and received the full support of the church. The fact that thousands of opponents of Franco were executed in the immediate post-war period and beyond, hardly seemed to bother the Catholic church. They certainly never condemned it. It was nothing more than a tiny blemish on an otherwise exemplary Catholic regime. And that is where the nature of this beatification comes into play.

The Spanish government, by finally recognising the families of Republican victims of Franco, have the church worried. The Vatican has yet to apologise for its role in the civil war and beyond, and is unlikely to ever acknowledge its mistake in supporting a fascist regime. This action by the Vatican is no more than a pre-emptive strike to get in their first before the socialist government of Spain (who are not as subservient to the church as their predecessors) finally condemns the Franco regime, the executions carried out under the direction of Franco and the summary postwar trials of people accused of opposing his regime. It is mischief making of the highest order. The Catholic church would do well to remember its role in the civil war and makes its apologies, rather than shifting the blame on to the Republicans and washing their hands of the whole affair. No side was blameless of the atrocities committed and certainly not the Catholic church.