Vatican beatifies Spanish war dead


The Vatican has beatified 498 Roman Catholics executed during the Spanish Civil War, in the largest  ceremony of its kind ever held.

The 498 people beatified today comprised of two bishops, 24 priests and 462 members of religious orders, as well as a deacon, a subdeacon, a seminary student and seven lay Catholics.

The move has been criticised for recognising victims of only one side of the conflict. The Catholic Church was closely linked with with the right-wing forces of General Francisco Franco, who won the war and presided over a nearly 40-year dictatorship staunchly supported by the Church.

Seventy-one bishops from Spain, a host of Spanish politicians and Spanish pilgrims massed in St. Peter's Square for the ceremony, which came at a particularly delicate time for Spain as it takes an unprecedented look at its past.

Critics have questioned the timing of the ceremony, coming three days before Parliament is to pass a Socialist-sponsored law seeking to make symbolic amends to victims of the war and of the Franco dictatorship.

The bill mentions people persecuted for their religious beliefs, but for the most part it is an unprecedented, formal condemnation of the Franco regime.

The Vatican, which since the late 1980s has beatified nearly 500 other clergy killed in the war, has been criticised over the timing of the ceremony.

The church says the ceremony is being held now because Pope Benedict XVI finished signing the decrees only two months ago.