Victory with divine protection

The uprising was not undertaken in the name of religion. The military rebels were more concerned with other things: saving order, the Fatherland, casting out liberalism, republicanism, and the socialist and revolutionary ideologies that were serving to orientate large sectors of urban and rural workers. But from the outset, the Church and most Catholics lent all of their not inconsiderable support to this cause. And naturally, they did so to defend religion. But also to defend this order, this Fatherland that would liberate them from anticleric-alism and restore all their privileges. The rebels did not have to ask the Church for its support, which it gladly offered; the Church had not wasted any time in coming to its decision. While some said they wanted order and others said they were defending the faith, they all recognised the benefits of the arrival of the sacred onto the scene.

The success of this religious mobilisation, this liturgy that attracted the masses in the dioceses of 'liberated' Spain, encouraged the army to adorn its speeches with references to God and religion, hitherto absent from the proclamations of the military coup and declarations in the days to follow. The rebels were convinced of the importance of the emotional link, as well as of the destruction and annihilation of the enemy, at a time when they knew what they did not want, but still lacked a clear political focus. The union between religion and patriotism reinforced national unity and legitimised the genocide that they had launched in that summer of 1936. One of the principal officers responsible for this killing, General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano, confessed to the archbishop of Seville, Eustaquio Ilundáin, during a mass rally presided over by the clergy, army officers and right-wing authorities: 'I believe that the priority for any good patriot is religion, because anyone who does not love God or his family is of no use to the Fatherland'.30

Mobilisation from below was accompanied by substantial rhetoric from above. The interpretation of the war as a crusade reached the Church hierarchy from the fronts and from the popular demonstrations of religious fervour all through rebel Spain. The Church authorities, safe in their episcopal palaces, understood this spirit of religious

30 Juan Ortiz Villalba, Sevilla 1936. Del golpe militar a la guerra civil, Imprenta Vistalegre, Córdoba, 1997, pp. 170-1.

rebellion and imbued it with reason and legitimacy. They only spoke after others had acted, and this served to reinforce the justice of their cause even more, helping them to give the impression that they only made an appearance when the anticlerical and revolutionary violence left them no option. They had neither taken part in the rising nor encouraged anyone to go to war. But there they were, obliged to take a stand against the material and spiritual decadence that 'the sons of Cain' had left the Fatherland in. They knew that this was the best approach for a rapid legitimisation of the military rising - in other words, the right to rebellion - and the war that ensued.

The union between the sword and the cross, religion and the 'civilian-military movement', was a recurrent theme in all the pronouncements, circulars, letters and pastoral preaching issued by the bishops during August 1936. Before the end of that month, three bishops had already explicitly described the civil war as being a 'religious crusade'. The first to do so was Marcelino Olaechea, the bishop of Pamplona, on 23 August. Three days later it was Rigoberto Doménech, the archbishop of Zaragoza. And the archbishop of Santiago, Tomás Muniz Pablos, put it categorically on 31 August: the war against the enemies of Spain was 'certainly patriotic, very patriotic, but fundamentally a religious crusade, of the same type as the Crusades of the Middle Ages, because now, as then, the struggle is for the faith of Christ and the liberty of the people. It is God's will! ¡Santiago y cierra España!' ('For Saint James, and close ranks, Spain!', a traditional Spanish battle-cry dating back to the ninth century).31

With this idea pervading Spanish ecclesiastical and traditionalist thought, and the fact that it had been revived in the battle against the French in the Peninsular War in the nineteenth century, it was inevitable that it would reappear in 1936 - 'ominous moments that will determine the destiny of religion and the Fatherland'.32 General Emilio Mola, hardly one for theological musings, was one of the first officers to understand the benefits of bringing the sacred into the picture, and the advantages of setting forward higher principles to steer

31 Alfonso Álvarez Bolado, Para ganar la guerra, para ganar la paz. Iglesia y guerra civil: 1936-1939, Universidad Pontificia de Comillas, Madrid, 1995, pp. 55-6.

32 Javier Ugarte, La nueva Covadonga insurgente. Orígenes sociales y culturales de la sublevación de 1936 en Navarra y el País Vasco, Biblioteca Nueva, Madrid, 1998, p. 185.

a political and class conflict. This is what he said in a broadcast on Radio Castilla on 15 August 1936:

We are being asked ... what direction we are taking. The answer is simple and one that we have repeated many times. We are going to impose order, to give bread and jobs to all Spaniards and give everyone a fair deal. And then, on the ruins left behind by the Frente Popular - blood, mire and tears - we shall build a great, strong, powerful State that is set to be crowned by a Cross ... the symbol of our religion and our Faith, the only thing that has remained untouched among so much savagery that attempted to pollute the waters of our rivers with the glorious and valiant crimson of Spanish blood.33

Mola was speaking from Navarre, the land of the crusaders, from where the Carlists had come at the start of the rising to spill blood 'for God and for Spain'. Also in Navarre at the time, cloaked in this atmosphere of a crusade, was Cardinal Primate Isidro Gomá, who, in his room in the spa hotel of Belascoain, wrote the Pastoral Instruction of the bishops of Vitoria and Pamplona on the 'Basque-Communist collaboration', published on 6 August. It had been these two bishops, Mateo Mágica and Marcelino Olaechea, who had visited him to ask him to draw up a document 'declaring the inadmissibility or unlawfulness of Basque nationalism'.

He did so on the spot, so as to 'clear up any misunderstandings'. 'Behind the civilian-military movement in our country', he wrote, 'lies the traditional love of our sacrosanct religion'. He identified the 'enemy' that supported the republican cause in the Basque Country as 'a modern monster, Marxism or Communism, a seven-headed hydra, the synthesis of all heresies, diametrically opposed to Christianity in its religious, social and economic doctrine'. It was not acceptable 'to fragment the Catholic forces against the common enemy'; it was not acceptable that Catholic Basques, 'our children, devotees of the Church and followers of its doctrines', should have found common cause with the 'sworn bitter enemies of the Church'.

Far from achieving its objective, which was to get the Basque nationalists to change sides, this Pastoral Instruction managed to highlight even further the split between the ecclesiastical authorities in the

33 Fernando Díaz-Plaja, La guerra de España en sus documentos, Plaza &

dioceses of Pamplona and Vitoria, who had been staunch supporters of the military rebels from the outset, and large sections of the Basque population, who may have been Catholic and conservative, but who opposed this Spain-centric authoritarianism that had been making its threatening presence felt in Álava and Navarre after 18 July. This was just the first symptom of a wound that would take a long time to heal, with Basque priests shot by the military rebels, and many others persecuted and imprisoned during Franco's dictatorship. Even Mateo Mágica, by no means a nationalist, ended up being hounded by the Junta de Defensa in Burgos, for 'being over-tolerant of the nationalist priests, who are most to blame for this militant movement' and for having turned the seminary in Vitoria into 'a school of nationalism'.

The officers were incensed over the 'nationalist struggle' and they mistakenly put the blame on the bishop of Vitoria. The Junta de Defensa, through the archbishop of Burgos, Manuel Alonso Castro, asked Mágica to meet with them to study 'a suitable way to deal with the nationalists'. The meeting did not take place, and the officers interpreted it as a refusal by Mágica to cooperate. General Fidel Dávila told Cardinal Gomá that it would be 'advisable for the bishop of Vitoria to take his leave from his diocese temporarily ... and withdraw voluntarily to somewhere near the French border'; otherwise the Junta would have to 'take a unilateral decision that would go against the Catholic sentiments of its members'. After various meetings and diplomatic dealings, Mateo Mágica left Vitoria on 14 October 1936 and moved to Rome.34

About two weeks before that, on 30 September, Enrique Pla y Deniel published 'Las dos ciudades', his pastoral letter in which he correlated into a single doctrine all the postures and views that his 'brothers in Christ' had been expressing over the previous two months. He provided a defence of the right to rebellion for 'just' causes - the justification being the Communist peril that was threatening Christian civilisation - and he evoked Saint Augustine's 'two cities', the 'celestial' and the 'earthly', to symbolise, in all its Manichean glory, the current conflict, describing

34 The drafting of the Pastoral Instruction and the expulsion are explored in Juan María Laboa, 'La Iglesia vasca', in Javier Tusell, Juan María Laboa, Hilari Raguer et al., 'La guerra civil', Historia, 16, 13 (1986), pp. 96-9. The document, from which the quoted words are taken, is reproduced in Antonio Montero Moreno, Historia de la persecución religiosa en España, 19361939, BAC, Madrid, 1961, pp. 682-6.

all those who died in the name of religion as martyrs. But above all, he coined the sentences repeated by everyone, which went down in history as the official doctrine adopted by the Spanish bishops: 'It may look like a civil war; but it is, in fact, a crusade. It was an uprising, designed not to create unrest, but to re-establish order'.35

Priests and others in holy orders, particularly Jesuits and Dominicans, unblushingly sailed with the authoritarian and Fascist winds that were then blowing in many parts of Europe. There was no holding back the belligerent ardour of this clerical legion. The bishops 'gave free rein to their hearts' when they spoke, as Juan de Iturralde put it, inciting others to do the same, and the few who were reluctant to join in with this cleansing and extermination were punished and deported. Selflessness, discipline, obedience, submission to the hierarchy were the watchwords. The Church had to become militarised, wrote the well-known Jesuit, Francisco Peiró. But it needed to be an 'interior militarisation' that would not settle just for 'donning the blue shirt and taking part in a parade'. It was a rhetoric charged with impassioned patriotism, with 'it is God's will and the Fatherland demands it', with fervent support for a 'new national reconquest that is colouring with crimson hues of blood the dawn of a new Spain'. Spain, wrote the Benedictine Federico Armas, in Ecos de Valvanera, the magazine of the sanctuary of that name in La Rioja, 'must be Catholic, unified, great and free; it must be one in its faith, in its geography, in its history, and in its empire'.36

The crowning point of this union between the Catholic Church authorities and the military rebels came with the 'Collective letter of the Spanish bishops to bishops all over the world'. This text was in response to the reaction by some of the world's Catholic press and in certain Catholic circles in Europe to the bombing of Guernica on 26 April 1937, organised by the commander of the Condor Legion, Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, following several consultations with the then Colonel Juan Vigón, Mola's Chief of General Staff.

35 The pastoral letter is reproduced in Montero Moreno, Historia de la persecución religiosa en España, pp. 688-708.

36 Francisco Peiró's article, 'Sentido religioso y militar de la vida' (1938), comes from José Angel Tello, Ideología y política. La Iglesia católica española, 1936-1959, Pórtico, Zaragoza, 1984, p. 74; Federico Armas, Ecos de Valvanera (mouthpiece of the sanctuary and brotherhood written by the Benedictine monks of this sanctuary in La Rioja), January 1937, p. 5.

Guernica was a symbol of Basque identity and both Vigon and Mola were well aware of this. Monday 26 April was market day. Among inhabitants, refugees and peasants who went to the market that day in the former Basque capital, there were some 10,000 people. The city had no anti-aircraft defences. It was attacked in the middle of the afternoon for three hours by the Condor Legion and the Italian Aviazione Legionaria, under the command of General von Richthofen. The Basque government estimated a death toll of over 1,500 and said that a further thousand had been wounded in the airraid, although the number of deaths, while not known for certain, was probably fewer than 500.

Franco's press and propaganda services denied at first that any bombing had taken place in Guernica. When this position became untenable, they blamed the destruction of Guernica on the Basques themselves, a lie maintained throughout the years of the dictatorship. But there were witnesses, including four journalists and a Basque priest, Alberto Onaindia. Two days after the attack, George Steer, the correspondent for The Times, published in that paper and in the New York Times an account of the massacre that would be read all over the world. Everyone now knew that Guernica had been destroyed by explosive and incendiary bombs. What certain historians, except the Francoist apologists, wrote later also made it quite clear: the idea originated in Mola's general staff and the Germans implemented it.37 And thanks to Pablo Picasso, Guernica became a symbol of the horrors of war.

Explosive bombs raining down on a defenceless civilian population - the massacre seemed to confirm what a few Catholic intellectuals were already saying abroad: that Franco's Christian Spain was a hotbed of ruthless killing. Concerned about the repercussions that this news might have in certain European government circles, Franco personally summoned Cardinal Isidro Goma to a meeting, which was held on 10 May 1937. According to Goma's own account, Franco asked him to arrange for 'the Spanish bishops ... to publish a letter addressed to all the world's bishops, along with a request that it be published in the Catholic press, that would set the record straight, and coincidentally would be performing a patriotic act and revision

37 As recounted by Preston, Franco, pp. 243-7.

of history, which would be of enormous benefit to the Catholic cause the world over'.38

Gomá hastily satisfied the Caudillo's wishes. On 15 May, he sent a 'secret' letter to all the bishops, setting out his request. They all replied positively, except for the archbishop of Tarragona, Francesc Vidal i Barraquer, who was in Italy, having managed to escape from the anticlerical violence of the summer of 1936. In a letter that he sent to Gomá on 30 May, Vidal considered that a 'collective document' was not the most 'effective, opportune or tactful' way, and besides (and here he was clearly thinking of Franco), he was not happy 'to accept suggestions from people outside the hierarchy over purely Church matters' - in other words, the Church, instead of remaining outside 'party politics', was tarnished by the cause of the military rebels.

On 14 June 1937, Gomá sent the draft of the collective letter to all the bishops. After a few final touches, probably the work of Pla y Deniel and the bishop of Madrid-Alcalá, Leopoldo Eijo y Garay, the galley proofs were sent to the Holy See at the beginning of July. At the last moment, Mateo Mágica withdrew his signature, claiming that he had been away from his diocese for over eight months, 'with all the sad consequences deriving from such an abnormal situation'. It was not that he would not sign, but could not: 'I might have signed the Document if I had still been in my post, physically and personally, with all the guarantees of liberty and independence that are stipulated for the spiritual exercising of the ministry and episcopal duties'.39

The 'Collective Letter from the Spanish Bishops to the Bishops of the World' was dated 1 July 1937, but it was sent to the bishops three weeks later, with the request that they did not publicise it until it had begun to be published abroad. It was signed by forty-three bishops and five capitular vicars. Around this time, Gomá sent two copies to Franco, and he pointed out to him, as if Franco did not know, that it had been written 'so that the truth of what has been

38 Cited in María Luisa Rodríguez Aisa, 'La carta del Episcopado', in Tusell, Laboa, Raguer et al., 'La guerra civil', Historia, 16, 13 (1986), pp. 56-63.

39 The groundwork and preparing of the Collective Letter has been related in detail by Hilari Raguer in La espada y la cruz. La Iglesia, 1936-1939, Bruguera, Barcelona, 1977, pp. 102-19. I have also based my account on the documented description by María Luisa Rodríguez Aisa, 'La carta del episcopado', in 'La guerra civil', Historia, 16, 13 (1986), pp. 56-63.

happening in Spain in recent years be known and, especially, what the National Movement means for our beloved Fatherland and for western civilisation'.40

From a doctrinal point of view, there was nothing new in this letter that had not already been said by bishops, priests and others in holy orders in the twelve months since the military rising. But the international impact was so great - it had been published immediately in French, Italian and English - that many people accepted permanently the Manichean and tendentious version transmitted by the Church of the 'armed plebiscite': that the National Movement personified the virtues of the best Christian tradition, and the republican government all the vices inherent in Russian Communism. As well as insisting on the lie that the 'military uprising' put a stop to a definite plan for a Communist revolution, and offering the typical statement in defence of order, peace and justice that reigned in the 'national' territory, the bishops included a matter of capital importance, which is still the official position of the Church hierarchy today: the Church was an 'innocent, peaceful, defenceless' victim and 'at risk from total extermination at the hands of communism'; it supported the cause that ensured the 'fundamental principles of society'. The Church was the 'benefactor of the people', not the 'aggressor'. The aggressors were the others, those who had caused this 'Communist', 'anti-Spanish' and 'anti-Christian' revolution, which had already accounted for the murder of over '300,000 of the lay population'.

The 'Collective Letter' was viewed favourably by some 900 bishops in thirty-two countries. 'We should congratulate ourselves that with this document we have helped to dispel any misunderstandings and put a good light on the events and ideas that are being aired with the current war in Spain', wrote Gomá to Pacelli on 12 October 1937.41 This unreserved support for the rebel side served as a decisive argument for Catholics and people of order the world over. This was fundamentally because it was accompanied by a shameless silence regarding the destructive violence that the army had been practising since the first moment of the uprising. The letter demonised the enemy, who were only moved by the desire for religious persecution,

40 Cited in María Luisa Rodríguez Aisa, 'La carta del Episcopado', in Tusell, Laboa, Raguer et al., 'La guerra civil', Historia, 16, 13 (1986), pp. 56-63.

41 Ibid.

and decisively codified support for the war as a holy, just crusade against Communism's assault on the Fatherland and religion.

Franco and the Catholic Church emerged notably strengthened. The transformation of the war into a purely religious conflict, ignoring the political and social aspects, justified all the previous violence and gave Franco licence to carry on with the killing. The Church, the military rebels' travelling companion right from the start of the journey, now took its seat at the front of the train bound for victory. Javier Conde, then Director of Propaganda, informed the Jesuit Constantino Bayle, the editor of Razón y Fe and a confidant of Gomá's, of the satisfaction expressed by those in the Francoist political and military circles over this wonderful document: 'Please tell the Cardinal that I, an expert in these affairs, want to say the following: he has achieved more with the Collective Letter than all the rest of us with our efforts'.42

As the war progressed, Catholicism gained ground, helped by the bombs and rifles deployed against the forces of revolutionary atheism, which were forced to bend their knees before the victor. First in Málaga, and then in all the other republican cities, the entry of the Francoist troops was celebrated with the Te Deum and other Catholic rituals, which gave unity to all the reactionary forces. The bishops gave the Fascist salute at all the civilian-military ceremonies, blessed arms, rallied the troops and encouraged the persecution of the vanquished. The interpretation of the victories of Franco's army as the result of supernatural protection from Saint James, Saint Theresa and the Virgin of the Column was widely supported during the war, and was carried over into the years of the dictatorship.

The revitalisation of religion reached the farthest corners of the reconquered territory, with street names being changed, the restoration of public worship, the re-establishment of religious education in the schools and the return of the crucifix in public places. At the first meeting of Franco's first government, held on Thursday 3 February 1938, it was decided to 'revise' all the Second Republic's lay legislation, and thus one law after another was repealed by decree, from the Civil Marriages Act to the Religious Confessions and Congregations

42 Álvarez Bolado, Para ganar la guerra, para ganar la paz, p. 159; the international repercussion of the 'Collective Letter' are examined on pp. 207-9.

Act, the Act passed in June 1933 that marked the climax of the alienation between the Catholic Church and the Republic.

Cardinal Gomá, the primate of the Spanish Church, approved of Franco's first government, containing as it did good Catholics such as Tomás Domínguez Arévalo, the Count of Rodezno, as Minister of Justice, and Pedro Sainz Rodríguez in Education. As soon as it was formed, Gomá sent a report to Cardinal Pacelli, informing him of his conviction that in Spain they were on the eve of 'a renovation of legislation concerning all aspects of Church affairs'.43

This 'renovation of legislation' was so swift that only a few months later, on the last day of June 1938, José María Yanguas Messía gave an assessment of his government's 'Catholicity' in his speech on presenting his credentials as ambassador to the Holy See:

It has already returned the crucifix and religious teaching to the schools, it has repealed the Civil Marriages Act, it has suspended divorce, it has restored the Company of Jesus into civil law, it has officially recognised the identity of the Catholic Church as a perfect association, it has decreed its civil and social effects, the sanctity of religious festivals, and has brought an authentically Catholic and Spanish conception to Labour Rights.44

Steeped in this victorious atmosphere, the Spanish clergy did not want to hear anything about pardon or mediation to end the war. Franco and his brothers-in-arms had been making it quite clear since the beginning of 1937 that they would not accept any mediation to end the war, 'just unconditional surrender'. All attempts to end the war through a negotiated peace, fostered by Manuel Azaña, the President of the Republic, and even looked upon favourably by the Vatican in the spring of 1937, failed. Franco said as much to Gomá in June 1937, so that he, by now a good friend of the Generalísimo's, would inform the Holy See. He would not accept a settlement, nor did he have to apologise for the alleged harshness shown by the army to the enemy, 'because nobody has been condemned without going through the proper procedure as laid down in the military code'.

43 'Report from the Primate to Cardinal Pacelli', 2 February 1938, in María

Luisa Rodríguez Aisa, El cardenal Gomá y la guerra de España. Aspectos de la gestión pública del Primado 1936-1939, CSIC, Madrid, 1981, pp. 295-6.

44 Quoted in Álvarez Bolado, Para ganar la guerra, para ganar la paz, p. 254.

One year later, Franco's attitude to a possible mediation was monotonously repeated: 'All those who want mediation, either consciously or unconsciously, are helping the reds and the covert enemies of Spain ... Our justice could not be more dispassionate or noble; its generosity is merely aimed at the defence of the highest interests of the Fatherland; no type of mediation could make it more benign'. On 18 October and at the beginning of November 1938, towards the end of the long drawn-out Battle of the Ebro, he offered more of the same to the Reuters correspondent: 'The outright decisive victory of our army is the only solution for Spain to survive . and there can only be one outcome: the unconditional surrender of the enemy'.45

No mediation, no pardon. The only thing the officers talked about was a process of 'cleansing', as if Spain needed to be 'purged' of her 'sick bodies'. And a good many Church authorities, bishops, priests and others in holy orders, went even further in their defence of this hysteria. Mediation was 'inadmissible' and 'absurd', said Leopoldo Eijo Garay, bishop of the diocese of Madrid-Alcalá at the time, because 'to tolerate democratic liberalism, entirely Marxist in its nature, would be a betrayal of the martyrs'.46

There was no betrayal, because the victory of Franco's army was as unconditional and resounding as the Church had wanted. Christ was the victor. And with no hope of a negotiated peace, a 'graveyard peace' was imposed. And Franco's successful strategy of a war of attrition, the total destruction of the adversary, meant that he could now establish an enduring regime.

45 Franco's declarations against mediation and reconciliation may be found in Álvarez Bolado, Para ganar la guerra, para ganar la paz, pp. 316-19.

46 Ibid.

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