The Spanish Church Speaks
Repository: Special Collections Labadie, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
Creator: Catholic Church Bishops
Contributor: Catholic Truth Society
BX1585 .A723 1938
Date Created: 1938
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: London, England
The Joint Letter of the Bishops of Spain to the Bishops of the Whole World Regarding the Conflict in Spain, published on 1 August, 1937 in English, French and Italian as well as in Spanish, is a testament to the importance the Francoists placed on international Catholic opinion.
The document was created at Francisco Franco’s express wish. Desperately seeking to diminish the damage to the Nationalists’ reputation from the destruction of Guernica, which had been widely reported in the international press, Franco asked the Primate of Spain, Cardenal Isidro Gomá, to publish a statement supporting his cause. The result was the most significant statement made by the Spanish Church during the Civil War.
The Joint Letter was signed by forty-three bishops and five vicarios, but the names of two very important prelates were missing. Cardinal Archbishop Francisco Vidal i Barraquer of Tarragona refused to sign because he believed that the Church should have been working towards reconciliation rather than taking sides. Barraquer had been in Italy since 1936 and the Franco regime never allowed him to return to Spain. For his part, Mateo Múgica, Bishop of Vitoria, objected to the fact that the Joint Letter made no mention of the Basque priests executed by the Francoists after their conquest of the Basque Country. In October 1937, the Francoists expelled him from Spain.
According to the bishops, the conflict in Spain was easy to understand. It was a struggle to the death between “two Spains… the spiritual… and the materialistic.” It was, in the document’s most famous words, “an armed plebiscite”. (The document did not call it a crusade, as bishop Enrique Pla i Deniel had done in his October 1936 pastoral letter, The Two Cities.) The war was also the direct result of a Communist plot hatched by the Comintern to launch a revolution in Spain. The plot included “the extermination of the Catholic clergy”, itself the logical conclusion of secularizing measures initiated with the Constitution of 1931. This revolution was also profoundly “anti-Spanish”, driven by “hatred for the national spirit” and left the real Spain with a brutally simple choice: resist or perish in the “assault of destructive Communism”. Franco’s “national movement”, which started only after Republican authorities ignored warnings about the “imminent Marxist revolution”, was precisely that resistance.
This vision of the Civil War was partial, partisan, and distorted. For the terrible violence perpetrated by the Francoists, there was only justification. However, it was precisely these characteristics, as well as the clear black and white story it told, including the alleged holocaust of which the Church was a victim, that made it such a powerful piece of propaganda. Even though the Vatican refused to comment on it, hundreds of bishops around the world endorsed the Joint Letter and it was widely publicized in the Catholic press.
Not only did the Joint Letter have the effect on global Catholic opinión that Franco desired, it has had a lasting impact on the way the Civil War is understood.