Springtime for Franco and Pope Benedict

BundesarchivBild183 L15327SpanienHeinrichHimmlerbeiFranco2

A friend sent me a troubling story from Spain. Pope Benedict, the former Cardinal Ratzinger, once a conservative theological brain-truster for Pope John Paul in his battles against liberation theology and progressive forces in the Roman Catholic Church, said in a speech that "in Spain, a strong aggressive lay mentality, an anti-clericalism and secularization has been born as we experienced in the 1930s."

Benedict was condemning the social legislation of the Socialist-led Spanish government, which has permitted abortion, liberalized divorce, and even legalized gay marriage.

He went on to say that Spain was a major center for a return to faith because Spain had played such a central role in "reviving" Christianity in past centuries. He didn't say what he meant specifically. Was it the Spanish Inquisition, Spanish colonialism's destruction of tens of millions of native peoples in the Western Hemisphere, the maintenance of a feudal social order that made Spain by the 19th century a weak backward nation, an example of what no one wanted to be?

My friend was outraged by the Pope's implicit defense of the fascist dictatorship that ousted the Spanish Republic and ruled Spain from the end of the 1930s until the death of the fascist dictator, Francisco Franco, in 1975. Let's look at what really happened.

In the 1920s and '30s Spain was at its core a feudal society without effective civil rights and liberties, a society in which the higher orders of the Catholic Church controlled vast amounts of land and other resources, making the Church a key component rather than a mere servant of the Spanish ruling class.

After five years of political struggle, in which the church supported reactionary forces and parties in Spain, a people's front coalition of liberals, socialists and communists defeated conservative and reactionary forces in a national election

In its 1931 constitution the Spanish Republic established religious freedom, which had never existed in Spain, as well as the separation of church and state and an end to the Catholic Church's control of education, and most importantly, placed restrictions upon church property.

It also sought to institute land reforms which would have returned poor church-controlled lands to the poor.

The most reactionary sectors of Spanish capital then supported General Francisco Franco's coup against the government. When the coup faltered in the face of worker and peasant resistance, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy entered the conflict to provide troops, weapons, planes and funds to Franco's forces.

In the bloody three-year civil war which followed, only the Soviet Union provided significant aid to the Spanish Republic. The global Catholic Church supported Franco's armies, not openly in defense of fascism, but on anti-Communist grounds, often countering the accounts of the atrocities committed by Franco's forces against workers and peasants with stories of attacks on monasteries and church-controlled feudal estates and the killing of clergy by the poor and other supporters of the Republic.

Following Franco's victory in 1939, a single party fascist state was established, property was returned to the upper classes and the church, and civil liberties and religious freedom were abolished (the latter for all non- Catholics, including Protestant Christians).

Hundreds of thousands of anti-fascist supporters of the Republic were murdered in the years which immediately followed Franco's victory, when Pope Benedict as a German teenager was a member of the Hitler Youth and then a draftee in the German Army.

Most commentators on the Pope maintain that he came from a passively anti-Nazi conservative Catholic family and was never an active supporter of the Hitler regime. But the crimes of German fascism and its central role in the establishment of Spanish fascism are still there. The German government, for example, provides Holocaust reparations to the victims and families of Spanish Republican fighters whom the Nazis captured in France and other countries and murdered systematically.

The Spanish Civil War served as a dress rehearsal for World War II, for the European fascist forces and the destruction of the Spanish Republic was their first major military victory.

The development of the Cold War and U.S. support beginning in the Eisenhower administration permitted Franco's regime to survive for 30 years after the 1945 victory over German and Italian fascism. The hopes of exiled Spanish anti-fascists for Spain's liberation, which the Soviet Union called for at the end of the war, never materialized.

If Benedict wanted to deal more seriously with Spanish history, he might take a page from Judaism and find his own Yom Kippur, a day of contemplation and atonement for the sins of his church against the Spanish people, in its hoarding of wealth and support for exploitation and oppression over the centuries.

He might atone for the Spanish Inquisition, the church's support for Spanish fascism during and after the Spanish Civil War, and perhaps its attempt to use the state to interfere in the lives of women and gays today by its call for state bans on abortion, contraception, divorce and gay marriage.

The Pope's official statements proclaiming mystical love and faith in Jesus through the Catholic Church as a road to peace and salvation can only be seen as smug and arrogant when they turn a blind eye to the institutional inequality and injustice which creates violence and hate and then feeds on it. Fascism was and is an expression of the violence and hate that lives through and feeds on inequality and injustice.

The Pope's statements in Spain should be seen as an insult not only to the Spanish people but to secular and religious people everywhere who seek knowledge which will help them fight social injustice rather than use ideology to preserve and protect wealth and power.

Photo: Nazi SS Reichsfurer Heinrich Himmler, second from left, and other Nazi officials, with Gen. Francisco Franco, second from right, in Spain, October 1940. (wikimedia/German Federal Archive CC 30.0)


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  • Franco was not a fascist.
    There was more social injustice from the republic than there was from the Franco government.

    Posted by Ronaldo, 06/26/2011 6:09pm (5 years ago)

  • Although it is a bit late, thanks to Reverend Ray Dubuque and also Sean Mulligan for the comments. There were believing Catholics and some clergy who opposed Franco,as Sean quoting Carl Marzani states. As long as there are Christians like the Reverend Ray Dubuque, Christianity as a religion will be relevant to peoples needs and hopes.

    Posted by norman markowitz, 01/07/2011 2:26pm (5 years ago)

  • Catholic Conservatives like "newsreader" will insist on defending their hierarchy until doomsday, despite the fact that Spain's hierarchy has already plead "Guilty":
    Spanish bishops admit decades of deception
    The accuracy of this report on the role of the Vatican in the fascist takeover of Spain is irrefutable. Why? Because Spain's Bishops themselves openly admitted the role of the Church. Seldes writes, 'The myth of a Christian crusade against Communism in Spain persisted for decades, despite honest revisionist historians. It was not until 1971 that the myth was finally destroyed by none other than the Roman Catholic hierarchy of Spain. This important correction of history was slurred in the world press and is probably not known to more than one person in a million today'.
    "In Madrid, September 15, 1971, Primate Cardinal Enrique Taracon presided at a Congress of the entire Roman Catholic Hierarchy, with 94 bishops and 151 priests present. . . . Although a two–thirds' vote was necessary to pass resolutions, and this one did not pass, it is significant that it received a large majority of the vote. . . . The majority confessed it had sinned in supporting the wrong side (the fascist side) in Spain and asked to be forgiven. `We humbly recognize,' said the resolution, `and ask pardon for it, that we failed at the proper time to be ministers of reconciliation in the midst of our people divided by a war between brothers.'" 4 "In 1971 – and again in 1972, 1983 and succeeding years – a majority of Spain's 94 bishops and 151 priests attending voted 60% or more for the Church's apology but never officially passed it." 1 By taking this action, Cardinal Taracon probably prevented widespread killing of priests and nuns upon Franco's death in 1975.
    The news of these votes was almost completely suppressed in the world press. Only three minor reports on this story appeared in the United States. "
    See more at my http://JesusWouldBeFurious.Org/Spanishcivilwar.htmlwhich supports NORMAN MARKOWITZ .

    Posted by Rev. Ray Dubuque, 01/04/2011 1:54pm (5 years ago)

  • One of the Spanish Cardinals at the time of the Civil War was Francisco Vidal who refused to sign a letter endorsing the Nationalists and was exiled by Franco once the war ended. Carl Marzani mentioned him and other Progressive Catholics in his book We Can Be Friends.

    Posted by Sean Mulligan, 12/19/2010 6:49pm (5 years ago)

  • @ E.E.W. Clay and his “brothers” in arms.

    It is so “refreshing” to see the anti-religious bigotry and dogmatism to be so openly claimed. Stalin, another of your “brothers” in arm, alone directly responsible for the death of 40 million people, applauds you and sends his love. Hitler was equally as good at demagoguery and butchering history to fit his bigoted fascist worldview as you. Did I mention Mao, the Khmer Rouge or Kim Il Sung yet? Great teachers you have. The Bugs Bunny cartoons are historical manuscripts compared to your bigoted rants. Excellent, just carry on … let everyone see.

    Posted by newsreader, 12/13/2010 8:40pm (5 years ago)

  • @ Joe O'Leary

    Oh yes, if all else fails, let's bring up the Inquisistion, that will stick, or at least so you think. I guess just another "expert" voices his prejudice and ignorance.

    YOU WRITE: "Vatican urged Spain to keep the Inquisition open, and no doubt beamed happily when heretics were executed as recently as 1826."

    The "Vatican urged"? There was No Vatican in 1826 or before. There were only Papal States until September 20, 1870, with Rome as its capital. The Vatican State was officially established in 1926. Your anachronistic historiography shows your ignorance of the matter.

    The Spanish Inquisition was established to replace the medieval inquisition which had been under papal control. In other words, the Spanish Inquisition was under the direct control of the Spanish monarchy, and it was established exactly to take it out of papal jurisdiction. Therefore, if you want to claim the "Vatican's urging" than you have to come up with some hard facts. Just because you declare something, it won't work. (Unless we are talking about the modern revisionst, dilettante historians and Hollywood.)

    Posted by newsreader, 12/13/2010 6:35pm (5 years ago)

  • It is so chilling to know the fascist minded souls about.
    Anti-communism,racism,misogyny,the organized murder of war,religious dogmatism,anti-Semitism,despising the poor and dispossessed,are the destructive drugs they consume.
    The holocaust and the African slave trade they deny and excuse as "unfortunate progress"(when they partially recognize them).
    Thank you brother Markowitz for offering an accurate history that exposes these souls as the anti-human monsters they are.
    This is good medicine for humanity.
    We must never forget that we are humanity,all.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 12/13/2010 6:09pm (5 years ago)

  • This is right on target. The Vatican's current attitude to the Spanish people is deeply insulting. Recall how the Vatican urged Spain to keep the Inquisition open, and no doubt beamed happily when heretics were executed as recently as 1826. The Vatican is now in a stage of pre-revolutionary decadence, and is multiplying all the signs of an absolute monarchy, in costumes and reactionary utterances, as if to defend itself by magic against the coming storm.

    Posted by Joe O'Leary, 12/13/2010 12:05am (5 years ago)

  • This article is simplistic, ideologically driven and full of stereotypes and banalities regarding Spanish history. I guess, now days, anyone who has access to a computer, can type and knows how to post a text is counted as an “expert” in anything they write.

    This terrible dumbing-down-of-intellectual-discourse is one of the main vehicles to re-write history and fill the heads with future generations with utter stupidity and examples of inability to thin, reason, evaluate and state complex realities in a nuanced and balanced way. (The other one is Hollywood “history” movies.)

    @ norman Markowitz
    Your comments, regarding my posting, are a perfect example of your ineptness in writing this article.

    YOU WRITE: “If Newsreader has any interest in human decency, he might look at serious studies of Franco Spain, its atrocities both during and especially after the Civil War”

    I have looked. But it is you who did not have the “human decency” to look at the period prior to the civil war, so you fill in your ignorance regarding that era with your ideological ranting. The Pope’s comments refer to the “1930s”, which to my knowledge start at 1930 and not 1936.

    YOU WRITE, referring to me: “It is also obscene to have an apologia for fascism appeal to human decency, which was the last thing Franco and his supporters represented”

    This is best example of your inability to read a single paragraph with minimum objectivity! Where the hell did I write an apology for fascism? To even remotely suggest this is an insult to human decency indeed! It only reveals your deep-seated prejudice, converging on bigotry. But, in some ways I am glad you wrote this, because it provides a perfect example of your inability to think objecgtively and historically.

    YOU WRITE: “If it is "biased" to be anti-fascist, then I am biased.”

    This statement is a perfect example of your intellectual dishonesty, because it implies that whoever doesn’t agree with you must be a fascist. You have an incredible fixation on fascism. Anything you don’t like you label it fascist.

    This is the problem with dilettante historians, who just because they can post a few paragraphs on the internet they think they are historians.

    Posted by newsreader, 12/11/2010 7:13pm (5 years ago)

  • This post is entirely misleading and commits the same error that it charges its opponents of having committed, i.e. glossing over significant facts. It is a fact that 13 bishops, and almost seven thousand priests, seminarians, monks and nuns were martyred in 1936 alone. These were neither soldiers nor armed combattants. Was this the peace that the "Republican" forces were bringing to the Spain after the "intolerant" Catholic Church.

    Posted by Cristina Brito, 12/11/2010 1:59pm (5 years ago)

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