Pope Francis urges Spaniards to reconcile over Catalonia dispute

Pontiff appears to criticise hardline stances on both sides of independence debate

Pope Francis: ‘I do not know if Spain is fully reconciled with its own history.’ File photograph: EPA

Pope Francis: ‘I do not know if Spain is fully reconciled with its own history.’ File photograph: EPA

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Pope Francis has urged Spanish leaders to put their ideologies to one side and embrace dialogue in order to resolve their country’s long-standing dispute over Catalonia.

In an interview with Spain’s COPE radio station, the pope was asked how the country should respond to secession attempts, such as the referendum held by the Catalan government in 2017 which was followed by a unilateral declaration of independence.

He responded by recommending that Spain “enter a process of dialogue and reconciliation and, above all, move away from ideologies, which are the thing that impedes any process of reconciliation”.

The pontiff’s comments appear to endorse the approach to the Catalan issue of the leftist coalition government of Pedro Sánchez. Later this month, his administration and the Catalan government are due to resume negotiations on the territorial problem which began in February of 2020 but have been delayed since then by the pandemic.

The pope’s words echo Mr Sánchez’s insistence on the need for “reconciliation” in Catalonia between those who want independence and those who do not. In June, the prime minister approved pardons for nine Catalan politicians who were jailed for sedition for their role in the 2017 secession attempt. At the time, the Socialist hailed the move as encouraging “a new era of dialogue” and “a return to co-existence and normality”.

“National unity is a fascinating expression, it’s true,” the pope added. “But it will never be worth anything without the reconciliation of people.”

Hardline positions

He appeared to offer an implicit criticism of both the hardline unionist stance of Spain’s right-wing opposition and radical pro-independence factions, both of which have criticised the upcoming negotiations. He called on both sides in the conflict to see each other “as brothers, not as enemies, or at least not have that dishonest instinct which makes you judge the other as a historic enemy”.

This week, the leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, described the negotiations as “a game of poker” and accused Mr Sánchez of being guilty of a “surrender to nationalism”.

The former president of Catalonia, Quim Torra, meanwhile, has said the talks are “absurd”, warning that they will not lead to a satisfactory outcome for those, like him, who want independence.

In the interview, Pope Francis also appeared to make reference to another politically divisive issue in Spain: the legacy of the 1936-39 civil war and ensuing dictatorship.

“I do not know if Spain is fully reconciled with its own history, above all its history in the [20th] century,” he said. “And if it isn’t I think it has to take a step towards reconciliation with its own history.”

The government recently unveiled a new historical memory Bill which will seek to tackle some of the issues linked to the civil conflict and dictatorship, such as the exhumation of mass graves containing victims of the dictator Francisco Franco.