French, Spanish Bishops Celebrate End of Terrorist Group ETA

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The news that the Basque separatist group ETA is to dissolve after a sixty-year reign of terror in the north of Spain and the south of France has been welcomed by the Catholic bishops of the region and by the spokesman of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference (CEE). In a statement released on Friday 20, the Bishops of Pamplona, Bilbao, San Sebastián, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Bayonne expressed their wish “that peace now take root in the region forever”, while the representative of the CEE, José María Gil Tamayo, hailed the dissolution of ETA as “a victory of democracy”.

In a statement released the day after the official ETA communiqué, the Basque bishops apologized for their “complicities, ambiguities [and] omissions” in relation to the activities of the terrorist organization that has killed more than 800 people since its foundation in 1959, with the loved ones of which victims it also expressed its particular “solidarity”. Remembering the “many men and women of the Church who have given their best” – often “heroically” – in the fight against ETA over the years, the Basque bishops also lamented the “immense and prolonged suffering inflicted by the violence” of the separatist group that has left “incalculable spiritual and social damage”, but which now must be met by a process of “reconciliation and moral reconstruction” to which the Church is willing to contribute.

“New possibilities for the normalization” of the political and social situation in the region

In stark contrast to the lukewarm reaction of the Spanish Government – which has dismissed ETA’s decision to dissolve as a political stunt – the Basque bishops called on politicians to “make the most” of the “new possibilities for the normalization” of the political and social situation in the region, and even attend to the petitions of former ETA members currently serving time in prisons in other parts of Spain to be incarcerated in jails in their Basque homeland.

“The key to peace and reconciliation is in the sincerity of the human heart”, concluded the Basque bishops, adding that “true reconciliation is only possible given genuine repentance, the sincere asking of forgiveness and a real willingness, insofar as it is possible, to make reparations for the damage that has been caused”. A point echoed by Gil Tamayo, spokesman of the CEE, who in a press conference Friday morning expressed his wish that the “reconciliation, peaceful coexistence and forgiveness” augured by the dissolution of ETA prevent people in the future from “setting down on paths of violence to defend their ideas”.

“It’s a victory of democracy, of all of the Spanish people who wanted to rid themselves of this scourge”, added Gil Tamayo, who also gave thanks to God for putting an end to “this horrible nightmare of blood, horror and recourse to violence” that has been a “bane in our people’s history”. “The Church has helped, is helping and will continue to help to make peaceful understanding possible” in the Basque Country, said the priest, before reiterating that the Spanish bishops wish “that this dissolution aids in the great task that remains, the most difficult and most onerous challenge for which more generosity is required: that of reconciliation”.

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