George Weigel and Spanish History

In a recent column George Weigel launches into a rant against Spain and the in particular, the socialist Spanish government of Zapatero.   His thesis is that “Spain is now Ground Zero in the European contest between Catholicism and the dictatorship of relativism.”   Much of his evidence for this is his biased reading of Spain’s recent efforts to come to grips with its own history:  the legacy of the Civil War and the 40 year dictatorship of Franco.  He writes:

“Textbooks were being re-written to enforce the government’s leftist view of modern Spanish history; students aiming for admission to prestigious universities would be required to give the “correct” answers about such traumas as the Spanish civil war in order to pass their entrance exams. Street names were being changed to eradicate the memory of the politically disfavored from Spain’s past.”

The problem seems to be that Spain is finally challenging the historical narrative that Weigel prefers:  Franco, for whatever his excesses, saved Spain the Church from the ruthless grip of Stalinism.  Though in an earlier column Weigel concedes that “just about everyone behaved badly during the Spanish Civil War, and there are atrocity stories to spare on both sides” it is clear that his sympathies lie with Franco and the Nationalists.   He refers to the Republican government as “Stalinists” (though the communists received almost no support in the election of 1936) and wildly inflates the numbers of priests and religious murdered during the first year of the Civil War.  (Weigel says “tens of thousands of priests and religious” were murdered;  Hilari Raguer, one of the leading Spanish authorities on the Church and the Civil war, cites studies putting the number below 10,000.)

I am not uncritically defending the Spanish Republic, though I will be frank and say that my sympathies lie with them rather than Franco.  But Weigel does neither Spain nor the Church any favors by clinging to a reading of history that, in the end, absolves Franco and lays the onus fully on the Republic.   Spain is finally coming to grips with the legacy of 40 years of fascist dictatorship; the Catholic Church needs to do so as well.   In this regard it is worth quoting extensively from the conclusion of Raguer’s book Gunpowder and Incense: The Catholic Church and the Spanish Civil War”:

[A]t the Joint Assembly of Bishops and Priests, held in Madrid in September 1971, one of the issues discussed was the need for the Church, publicly and as a body, to ask for forgiveness for the attitude she had adopted during the Civil War. The following proposal was put to the vote:

‘If we say that we have not sinned, we make him [God] a liar and his word is not in us’ (1 Ep. John, 1.10). Therefore, we humbly recognize and ask forgiveness, for we did not know at that time how to be true ‘ministers of reconciliation’ in the breast of our people, divided as they were by a war between brothers.

The text obtained 137 votes in favour, 3 null and void, 78 against, 19 ‘iuxta modum’* and 10 blank. Since the majority did not amount to the two thirds demanded by the rules of the Assembly, possible changes were debated and put to a new vote. A single word had been added: ‘we did not always know’. This time, however, either because some of the proponents of asking for pardon had back-stepped or, more probably, because the weak- ening of the phrase by the addition of ‘always’ displeased others, the number of votes was less, although a majority was still obtained: 123 said ‘yes’, none were null and void, 113 said ‘no’ and 10 were blank.30 Nevertheless, that vote was an historic landmark.

The Joint Assembly was a high moment of sincerity and self-criticism for the Spanish Church. It has not been repeated. Since then, regarding, for instance, the beatification of the martyrs of the Civil War, they have talked about giving pardon but not about asking for pardon, as the bishops of other countries have done in assuming their historical responsibilities.

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  • Ronald King

    David, I know nothing of Spanish civil conflict other than what was glossed over in high school and the little I read in newspapers while growing up in the 50’s and 60’s with the threat of the a-bomb and communism and learning how to hide under our desks preparing for an a-bomb attack. What consistently disappoints me in regards to the history and current trajedy of war has been the lack of a heroic and unified sacrificial response of Church leadership to lead the faithful on a true path to peace based on Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. I naively expected more from our the head of the Body of Christ when he directly observes how the other parts of the Body suffer and yet does not apply the appropriate treatment to heal that suffering part. It would be like taking an antacid to relieve stomach cancer because one is afraid to face the reality of death. So one lives in denial and rationalizes why one should not be directly involved in the resolution of this internal crisis.
    Now that I think about this, the Spanish Civil War is another example of how the entire Body of Christ has been harmed by a fearful Church hierarchy. It is not a matter of taking sides in the conflict, it is a matter of putting oneself in harms way without a gun and to face the possibility of death in order to stop the killing.
    However, in my ignorance I could be wrong and am open to being corrected.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I think you are sketching out a “third way” that was present even during the Spanish Civil war, but was mostly ignored or denigrated by the vast majority of the Church. In the United States this was the line taken by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker—it was the natural consequence of their uncompromising Christian pacifism. Commonweal magazine eventually gravitated to this position, though with a great deal of vacillation. In France, a version of this position (calling for an end to violence by both sides) was endorsed by Jaques Maritain Francois Mauriac.

  • Ronald King

    Another thought concerning Weigel’s column is that he fails to see the backlash against the Church is a natural response to a leadership that aggressively attacks those outside the womb whose sexual orientation is not in line with Church teaching and who have just begun to have a voice in proclaiming their right to freedom of expression. It is much safer for the hierarchy to confront this group than to confront the violence that causes so much suffering and death in the world. Isn’t this relativism in the practice of our faith, when one chooses to confront a sinner who does not pose a physical threat to one’s well-being while distancing oneself from the reality of violence that permeates every soul on this planet?

    • MarkF

      Ron, you are way off base with that comment. I’m a man who lived for over thirty years with same-sex attraction. One, the Church does not attack anyone. She affirms the sanctity of the family and of life. And homosexuality is not a path that leads to life, not by a long shot. I know that you have read the article on here about hell. Homosexuality certainly is hell on earth. Not only did I live in it but every other person I saw was badly affected by this evil. Some of these people clearly knew that they were in hell. These were the lucky ones. The truly unfortunate ones raged so much against light and life that they only saw the world through the lens of their own homosexuality. It becomes their only religion. It is in fact a pagan god, as all sin is. But few thieves make a public ideology of theft even if their whole life is devoted to it. What we are witnessing now is the enshrinement of sin in the dressings of holiness. The public ideology of homosexuality, the so-called gay ideology, is a heresy that seeks to thwart grace and to reject contrition. I’ve seen with my own eyes and have heard with my own hears how depraved people can be when we reject God. You cannot have the ideology of homosexuality without rejecting scripture and sacred tradition. Once that is gone, man is left to his worst side.

      Homosexuality is far from a victimless sin. God does not define something as a sin that is not deeply destructive to us. Homosexuality is much darker and is much more destructive than most want to admit. Few people in the West these days want to see that. I’ve come to accept that willful blindness just as much as I’ve accepted that light will prevail over darkness.

      [Since Ron opened the door, I am going to let this through. But I do not want this thread to get side-tracked into a discussion about homosexuality. I have been thinking about doing such a post, but it is still under prayer.]

      • Ronald King

        Sorry David that I opened the door. When I saw that comment from Weigel I just could not keep my fingers quiet. Mark, I have seen and directly dealt with the suffering of those who have same sex attraction and they have been and are targets for ridicule and humiliation. I hear it on catholic radio everyday and I am sick of it. When David does his post I will have more to say. People rage against what does not appear to be loving.

  • Bruce Cole

    And what on earth does Weigel think textbooks and university admissions and street names were like when his chum Franco was in power?

  • digbydolben

    Doesn’t Wiegel also know that, to Franco’s way of thinking, toward the end of his life, Pope Paul VI Montini was a “communist”–or at least a “fellow traveler” of the Reds?

  • Kurt

    Persons engaged in support of an armed fascist coup against the legitimate and elected government of a Republic are enemy belligerents, regardless of if they wear a helmut or a biretta on their head.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Kurt, are you implying that every priest and nun murdered in the opening weeks of the Civil War supported the coup? I think this is a stretch: while some were indeed active supporters of the Nationalists, the vast majority were killed simply for being visible representatives of a Church that was considered part of the problem. They no more deserved to be killed than the thousands of people murdered by the Nationalists for being “reds” or “communists.”

  • Sofia Loves Wisdom

    Glad you took this topic on. Interesting.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Thank you. I plan to come back to it: the April Fools post has led me to do a lot of reading and reflecting on the Civil War. But I had to nail Weigel for this particular bit of foolishness.