Spanish opposition leader under scrutiny after attending Mass for dictator

Pablo Casado’s party says he was at service in Granada at the weekend by accident

The leader of Spain's main opposition party, Pablo Casado, is facing accusations of either being an extremist or of making a monumental blunder after attending a Mass dedicated to the late dictator Francisco Franco.

Mr Casado, leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), attended the service in a church annexed to Granada cathedral on Saturday, the anniversary of the death of General Franco in 1975. A small number of churches around the country continue to hold such masses every November 20th in tribute to Franco, who headed a brutal dictatorship for 36 years.

News that Mr Casado had been present leaked out after a young man who had also been in attendance had a photograph taken with the politician and uploaded it to social media with the caption that they had both been to a Mass “for the Generalísimo”.

"We're talking about a dictator and we need an explanation as to whether he [Mr Casado] supports the dictator," said Héctor Gómez, spokesman for the governing Socialist Party.

However, the PP has insisted the incident was an unfortunate coincidence. Mr Casado was in Granada to take part in the convention of the Andalucían wing of his party and a PP spokesperson said that he and his family had attended the Mass on Saturday because they wouldn’t be able to on Sunday.

The archbishopric of Granada also played down the incident, with a spokesperson telling local media that “someone organised a Mass for someone’s memory and his name was said, but there’s not much more to it”.

However, details of the service have emerged suggesting the far-right nature of the service was obvious. A photograph reportedly taken during the Mass and published by elDiario.es news site shows a pro-Franco flag hanging over one of the front pews.

During the service, the priest spoke the first names of Francisco Franco and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, another icon of the far right, but not their surnames.

Francoist flags

Afterwards, by the entrance to the cathedral, people brandished Francoist flags and sang Cara al Sol, the anthem of pro-Franco soldiers during the 1936-39 civil war, according to reports.

The Francisco Franco Association, which promotes the legacy of the dictator, said in a statement that it had not invited the PP leader to the service, but it thanked all those who had attended "the Mass to pray for the soul of an exemplary Christian like Francisco Franco Bahamonde".

The PP’s predecessor, the Popular Alliance, was founded by ministers who served under Gen Franco. Although the party has sought to distance itself from the dictatorship in recent times, it has repeatedly refused to condemn the Franco regime. In 2019, Mr Casado and his party opposed the exhumation of Franco’s remains from his vast mausoleum and their transferral to a smaller cemetery.

"I can't imagine the leader of the main opposition party in Germany going to a Mass dedicated to the memory of the dictator Hitler or in Italy in memory of the dictator Mussolini," said Joan Baldoví, of the leftist Compromís party.

The leftist commentator David Torres said the affair in Granada had made it unclear whether "Casado prefers to be seen as stupid or seen as a Francoist".

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain

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