Clergy killed in Spanish civil war to be beatified

Spain: Nearly 500 priests, monks and nuns killed during the 1936-39 Spanish civil war will be beatified in Rome tomorrow

Spain:Nearly 500 priests, monks and nuns killed during the 1936-39 Spanish civil war will be beatified in Rome tomorrow. It will be the largest beatification ceremony seen in a single day.

As in most civil wars, there were atrocities committed by both sides and the wounds still fester. It is estimated that some 7,000 bishops, priests, nuns and monks were killed during the conflict, often after suffering torture.

Republican mobs stormed and burned dozens of cathedrals, churches and religious buildings, destroying priceless works of art and libraries.

The Spanish Catholic Church has long campaigned for the beatification of its martyrs There have been 479 other beatifications since 1987 and it seems likely there will be others to come and even canonisations.


"The church is finally recognising that they died as martyrs," said the spokesman for Spanish Episcopal Conference which has dubbed them "God's servants".

However these "servants" were not all on Franco's Nationalist side. Many priests and nuns, whose sin was being loyal to the republican cause, were killed by Franco's troops. They will not be remembered tomorrow.

No one knows how many people died during that time, but the death toll of civilians and military on both sides may be as high as one million. Descendents of the republican victims complain that the Vatican always favours the pro-Franco camp.

"They should beatify all those who died acting for the good of others," said the brother of a young priest murdered in 1936.

Relations between the Socialist Party and the Catholic church in Spain have always been strained, but they deteriorated recently after the socialists came to power and legalised same-sex marriages, homosexual adoptions and ended the teaching of religion in state schools.

Prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, like many of his cabinet, is an agnostic. He is particularly sensitive to the civil war dead as his own grandfather was murdered by Franco troops.

The government wants to depoliticise this weekend's ceremony and would like to treat relations with the Vatican as that of one state with another.

Thus it will be foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos - who is a practising Catholic - who will lead the Spanish delegation to Rome on Sunday.

Most of those attending the Vatican ceremony are relatives of the 498 to be beatified. One of those travelling to Rome this weekend is José Andres Torres Mora, a socialist parliamentary deputy whose great-uncle, a 24- year-old seminarist, was tortured and murdered in 1936.

Mr Torres Mora is a non-believer himself, but he will be accompanying his great-aunt to the ceremony with other members of their family. It will be one of the rare occasions that Sr Carmen Duarte, a cloistered nun, will leave her convent.

She remembers in graphic detail the horrors of her brother's death. "He had left the seminary for a holiday and they came and split his stomach like a pig," she told a Spanish journalist recently.

The ceremony presided over by Pope Benedict comes at a sensitive time for Spain. The horrors of the war and reprisals during the subsequent dictatorship have been hidden by a generation who wanted to establish and strengthen democracy and forget or ignore the past.

Many young people born since Franco died in 1975 have little or no knowledge of what happened or who General Franco was.

This could change however after next week when the Historic Memory Law is expected to pass through parliament, approved by all parties except the conservative opposition Popular Party, who claim it is opening old wounds.

Mr Torres Mora is one of the main supporters of this bill.

"I don't hear the right wing criticising these beatifications, but they do criticise those who want to find out where their relatives were buried or dumped," he says.

"They only want to recover their remains to give them a dignified decent burial. Surely this is not asking too much."