Back to Index

SPAIN: The Civil War

This morning I sent out a posting about the sharp disagreement about the Spanish Civil War between two WAISers. It began: "It is amazing that the war of words about the Spanish Civil War still goes on." Pablo Saz Parkinson then sent me some articles from today's Spanish press about the bitter dispute in the Spanish parliament about a motion condemning the 1936 military coup which marked the beginning of the Civil War. The governing Partido Popular voted it down, saying that it was a trick of the Basque Nationalists to justify their attitude. It was embarrassing for the Partido Popular, which claims rightly that it is a centrist party and rejects charges that it is the heir to the Franco regime. There is some truth to this charge, since a few Partido Popular leaders such as Manuel Fraga Iribarne were active in the Franco government. My position has always been "A plague on both your houses". The 1936 coup was unfortunate, but it was widely supported because the Republican government was incapable of governing, and the country was falling into chaos.

Armando Romero has sent me an article "The New Spanish Martyrs" by Robert Royal. The word "new" refers to the fact that the Pope has proclaimed them to be martyrs. Here ae some passages:

"Most Americans who have even heard of the Spanish Civil War have been led to believe that it was a conflict between democratic, freedom-loving Republicans on the one hand, and Fascists led by General Francisco Franco on the other. Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia portray the war in that light, though both have the decency to admit that widespread murder of Catholics took place.

Thousands of idealists from other nations volunteered to fight on the side of the Republicans in "International Brigades." Franco s forces were characterized as reactionary and authoritarian Catholics. But at the time, no western nation supported the Republicans, precisely because of their anti-religious atrocities. Only the Soviet Union, then closely allied with the Spanish Republicans, and Mexico, itself perpetrating atrocities against its own church at the time, backed Republican Spain.

The other countries of the world were right. In Spain, one of Europe s most staunchly Catholic countries, large numbers of Catholics were butchered during the 1936-1939 Civil War solely for being Catholic. Unlike the martyrdoms in most parts of the world, whole sectors of the religious community were liquidated. At least 6,832 priests and religious were martyred, including 13 bishops. In the 20th century, probably no country witnessed so much bloodshed among its clergy.

The male religious martyred included 259 Claretians, 226 Franciscans, 204 Piarists, 176 Brothers of Mary, 165 Christian Brothers, 155 Augustinians, 132 Dominicans, and 114 Jesuits. The toll among the female orders was lower, but still shocking when we recall that these women could have had virtually nothing to do with the political struggle: 30 Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, 26 Carmelites of Charity, 26 Adoratrices, and 20 Capuchins, along with many others."

The article decribes Spain as "one of Europe's most staunchly Catholics countries". However, it was also the country of the most strident anticlericalism I have seen anywhere. When the Catholic mother of the president of the anticlerical Residencia de Estudiantes died, many of us went to the funeral. The men all refused to enter the church and waited outside. It was against their principles to enter a church. Once a Member of the Residencia invited me to his home for dinner. His small son, aged about then, was a talented artist. While his parents looked on admiringly, he drew some nasty cartoons of priests.

The explanation for this anti-clericalism is twofold. It is the memopry of the Inquisition which long ago persecuted those accused of heresy. Its victims were at least as numerous as the clerics killed in the Civil War. Secondly, the church was allied with the monarchy, which used the Church for its own purposes, so the odium for the state washed off on the Church. This is an argument for the separation of Church and State in the United States. It would be unfortunate if the Church were viewed as a tool of the Republican Party. The Church must be free to criticize the state and the government, which is sometimes its duty. The world has difficulty understanding how the Gun Lobby can also be a strong supporter of the Church. This is a unique phenomenon and a dangerous one. It parallels the army's support for the Catholic Church, which is part of the Spanish tradition.

Ronald Hilton - 2/14/01