06 November 2007

Martyrs in Spain, Politics in Rome

The weekend before last, the Catholic Church beatified 498 clergy killed during the Spanish Civil War for refusing to deny their. That this was a political act is proven as much by the headlines accompanying the news stories describing the occasion. Are you a liberal? Then you'll want to read this article, where the word martyrs appears in quotation marks in the headline. If you are an out-and-out leftist of socialistic or even atheistic communist views, go here. If you are a liberal anti-clerical, a traditional posture of Catholic polities in Europe, you might like to read Christian Laporte's piece in La Libre Belgique, quoted here. (But you'll need to read French.) If your views are of a more traditional, perhaps even Francoist bent, you could find some comfort in this web site aimed at expatriates in Spain.

One of the problems confronted in writing about war is that the construction of the historical record is a political act, and even more so when writing about conflicts in which millions have died. The Vatican was on record on 28 October 2007 saying that the beatification of these martyrs was not a political act. Yet it was, because it's impossible to do such a thing without knowing that fascists will see an event they can take advantage of, and did. The article in El PaĆ­s, a centrist Spanish newspaper very much emblematic of post-Franco Spain, specifically quoted an incident in which a man is carrying a Francoist-era national flag, with the coat of arms in front of the breast of an eagle. At the same time, the mobilization of the event by Franco's fans will certainly alienate those who have Republican sympathies. The Catholic Church is a big enough institution that it can shrug its shoulders, so to speak, and continue to pursue its own agenda. However, those of us writing about it end up prisoners of our own prejudices, as each of these 498 people made an individual decision that cost them their life. Some may have hoped and prayed for the success of Franco's "crusade"; but others might have simply expressed their faith at the wrong time and in the wrong place. To exploit their deaths and the public commemoration of their deaths for political purposes seems far too selfishly intrusive for my taste.

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