Franco, The Church and the Fight for Spain's Soul

From the Contrarians Review, I have found this gem. I have reprinted it in its entirety. The site may be found here...

Franco, The Church and the Fight for Spain's Soul--By Kenneth Scheiber

The rule of Francisco Franco, in Spain referred to as Franquismo, has left an indelible mark on the history of Spain and the Catholic Church of his day. In short, Generalissimo Franco adopted a highly dictatorial and militaristic rule following the Spanish Civil War (1936-9) that lasted until the 1970’s. From within and outside of Spain, this regime had many supporters and many dissenters in which one of its largest supporters was the Catholic Church. In this article, we will examine various positives and negatives to the Franco dictatorship and evaluate the historical context under which the Catholic Church supported his rule… which may not appear to be readily obvious to the secular observer.

The movement that eventually evolved into that which Franco led was originally known as the Carlist movement. This movement sprung up in Spain as a post-Napoleonic reaction to the ideas associated with the French Revolution. It was so-named for its support of the highly authoritarian Carlos, the brother of the absolutist Fernando VII (the first post-Napoleonic king). The Carlists supported a strengthened monarchy based on anti-modernist principles and a firm reliance on the traditional teachings of Catholic Church (which unfortunately in their view also included the reinstatement of a state-run, but clerically administered Inquisition). The supporters of Carlos did not fade away after their champion died despite never having ruled Spain or directly imposing their ideology. This suggests that that movement struck a deeper chord with the Spanish population and based itself on a deeper understanding of the world around it. This desire for stability and a firm understanding of what it meant to be Spanish fermented throughout the 19th century and various republican forms of government until a military coup led by Miguel Primo de Rivera following Spain’s loss the United States in the Spanish-American War. Rivera, known as the “Iron Surgeon” (cirujano de hierro) ruled Spain with results seen as largely positive by the population until the Great Depression struck Spain in 1929 and Rivera resigned. When the provisional republican government set up elections a few years later, the losers of the Rivera regime (primarily socialists) overwhelmed the nominating and voting processes with support from the Soviet Union. When they tried to institute socialist policies in a few provinces, Franco (who had been a popular war hero and distrusted by the socialists), entered mainland Spanish territory from North Africa to reinstitute a Rivera-style government that would be free of foreign interference and reaffirm traditional “Spanishness” which Franco viewed as Catholic, Absolutist, economically spry, and independent of foreign political influence. With material support from Hitler’s Germany, the Vatican, and Mussolini’s Italy, his forces overwhelmed the republican (socialist) forces and set up shop from 1936 until the mid-1970’s.

When one examines on what ideas Franco based his politics, it is evident to the observer that he merely was attempting a reaffirmation of the Carlist principles that had become a prominent political ideology in the Spain of the Post-Napoleonic era, Franquismo became a prominent ideology following the Spanish Civil War for many of the same reasons. After considering the political and economic turmoil that governed Spain prior to both the rise of Carlismo and Franquismo, from the end of the Spanish American War until the end of the Spanish Civil War, one can conclude that Franco stood against the turmoil and created the order that the country needed to structurally develop. Franco and Carlismo both supported authoritarian, pro-Catholic, pro-growth, and anti-modernist understandings of their worlds. Let us now examine the specific positives and negatives through which Franco played out these policies.

First, let us investigate the positive policies that Franco instituted. As a general rule, one could some up his policies as anti-modernist in orientation in that he rejected the principles of governance that entered Spain through the Enlightenment. These enlightenment principles included constitutional governance, democracy, secularism, socialism, and subjectivism. The most important of these was subjectivism because in Franco’s mind, secular and constitutional governance was not necessarily based on objective truth. He saw that the law could only serve the country if laws were just and if laws were not based not objective truth then the law would never be just. Since the public at large could not be trusted to adhere to a long-term vision of values and policies, the country required a steady hand at the helm. Furthermore, he needed no better example than the terror provoked by Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union to see the evidence and for this reason he hunted down socialist cells in Spain.

To prevent an infusion of subjectivism or relativism into society, Franco decided that government policy should be redirected toward education of children and the strengthening of the family. The results of Franco’s social policies brought steady increases in the quality of life for many sectors of society. Such examples include : 1) government salaries and pensions for stay-at-home mothers 2) A modern and improved health care system as the increase in population and decreases in infant mortality and unnatural death can attest. Furthermore, the average women of child-bearing age under the Franco regime bore five children when the natural rate of replacement was two – an indication that life in the Franco regime was not as dire or unpopular as the revisionist historians would have us believe. 3) A modern and improved educational system that included Catholic educational instruction. 4) A vibrant, open economy that attracted record foreign investment. In fact, under Franco, Spain had the highest rates of skilled-labour employment, economic expansion, and demand for Spanish goods abroad than at any other point in its history. The Vatican supported all of these actions taken by the Franco regime as well as the violent suppression of dissent largely from socialist forces. However, it is important to remember the historical context of the period in which the Pius XII supported the Franco regime rather than simply using it as further condemnation of Pius XII’s Papacy.

From the perspective of the Vatican, at the time in which Franco seized power (1930’s) the secularist threat to the Church was primarily the International Socialism. This ideology, Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union primarily espoused and attempted to spread throughout the world. This attempt to spread atheistic socialism resulted in the deaths of millions of Catholics and separated brethren in gulags and concentration camps. Both were targeted through political and social campaigns to purge the world of religion which socialists believed to be inherently evil. After reflecting upon the dangers posed to the Church by international socialism, it is plain to see that National Socialism (Fascism) was not clearly recognized as a threat on the same level as that of international socialism. In the 1930’s, Mussolini had negotiated a concordat with the Vatican that ensured Catholic social values and recognized the significance of the Church in that country. Hitler had not yet begun any bitter campaigns against Christianity and even taken steps toward reconciliation with the Vatican. Franco - a self-proclaimed national socialist - supported Catholicism, was against foreign war, and supported the Vatican philosophically and diplomatically. From the perspective of the Vatican, Franco’s struggle could even be interpreted as a Just War in that he was fighting to rescue his country from the spread of international socialism that was openly hostile to the Church … and that deserved support. It was not until World War II broke out on a grand scale in 1939 that Germany (but not Italy or Spain) began (in 1942) to abrogate their relations with the Vatican and persecute the Catholic Church for speaking out against German atrocities. When considering Franco under these conditions historical context is everything. Franco stopped organized atheistic groups, persecutions of Christians in Spain, and supported the Vatican’s international diplomacy at a time when organized forces sought to extinguish religion from the world – what was wrong with Franco?

There were many parts of Franco’s regime that did garner criticism from the Vatican. First, the Vatican disagreed with Franco’s harsh treatment of dissent following the Civil War period. Second, it disagreed with his seemingly anti-Semitic policies. In the first case, Franco ruled the country as though he were the commander of an occupation army, so that anybody who disagreed with Franco’s understanding of what Spain meant was dealt with as though an insurgent. Pius XII’s condemnations of totalitarian regimes included a statement that said, “desirable as the ends may be, they never justify immoral means.” This understanding of totalitarianism certainly includes underlying philosophy of the Franco regime… that Catholicism and more generally righteous social values can be enforced at gunpoint if necessary – a position that Pius XII felt to be erroneous. In the second case, Franco claimed that the Jews he deported were either Communists or security threats for other reasons. He was also quick to point out that he deported Jews he thought to be problematic rather than embark on organized killings of them as was the German policy. However, Pius XII and his Vatican, a stalwart protector of Jews, considered these Jewish policies to be the result of a friendly relationship with Hitler’s Germany and after the war – anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, behind imploring Franco to change his ways, the Vatican did not have the force necessary to change these policies.

Despite these criticisms of Franco, one again has to remember the historical context through which Franco was criticized. The forces in Spain that were anti-Franco were also ardently anti-Catholic. The groups that opposed the ideas of Franquismo included International Socialists (often Soviet-supported), Euro Socialists (philosophical skeptics), anarquists, and ETA (the Basque terrorist group). In the end, the Vatican simply objected the methods used, but also recognized that within the context of the time and place (World War and Cold War Spain) a Communist takeover in Spain was a likely outcome. From the perspective of the Vatican, the only way to preserve the institutional Church in Spain was to support the Franco regime – who at least supported many desirable social aims, sought to protect the institutional Church, and did not openly interfere with the Vatican’s ability to govern the Church (unlike the alternatives).

In conclusion, in this analysis we have explored the background behind the Franquismo movement, the reason for its rise, and the governing philosophy behind the movement and later dictatorship. We have seen that Franquismo derived its origins from previous movements that had arisen in Spain in the past that had challenged new social movements. The impetus for Franco’s specific military movement was the election of a government based on International Socialist principles that was hostile towards the Catholicism as Montero, as one among many sources, can attest. As a result of raising an army that protected the Catholic Church and the country against violent anti-Catholic revolutionaries, Franco managed to gain the support of the Vatican in a turbulent period. We have further analyzed the context of the world during his rise and consolidation of power and contrasted that with the manner in which the Vatican operated during this period. Through seeing the way in which Franco governed and the goals that Vatican sought to accomplish, it is apparent to see how Franco can be viewed as a generally positive force in Spain from the Catholic perspective in general and in Spain in particular.

Thanks and a tip of the beret to the Contrarians Review.

Vive Le Roy.
de Brantigny


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5)Quesada, Cooper, Payne, Morcillo, Spain in Crisis: all developments discussed in these sources.
Noble, Lecture “Pius XII’s Troubled Papacy”

6)International Socialism: system of government where the government utilizes state-owned enterprises for the purpose of promoting its values in other countries.


8)Marx – Das Kapital, “…religion iss the opiate of the masses…”
See also Rooney 2, Moreno 761 – see statistics below

9)National Socialism: system of government where the government uses state-owned enterprises to promote its views of traditional values for the improvement of the country.

10)John Paul II, 2309. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines a Just War as – a war that is necessary for the preservation of greater human life against an unjust aggressor. In this analysis, the Communist insurrection could be considered an unjust aggressor for trying to violently implement its ideology through revolution and specific targeting of the Church and its ideology as enemies.

11)Moreno 761. Moreno estimated that in Spain alone from 1936-9 - 6,832 Catholic Clergy were killed by anti-Franco groups, including 13 Spanish Bishops. In addition, many churches were specifically targeted for burning.



14)Rooney 1



17)See note 8

About the Author: Kenneth Schrieber is a teacher and Diplomatic Historian who lives in North Carolina.

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