Karl J Trybus @The Central: Exclusive extract from recent publication.

Karl J Trybus @The Central

The Rosary, the Republic, and the Right: Spain and the Vatican Hierarchy, 1931-1939 works to establish a nuanced view of the actions of the Vatican hierarchy in relation to Spain’s tumultuous Second Republican and Civil War periods.  With the assistance of Secret Vatican Archival materials, this work aims to highlight the differences between the publicly understood goals of the Spanish Catholic hierarchy—which wanted the Republic to fall and conservatives to control the Spanish state, from the Vatican hierarchy—which faced severe pressures from a variety of actors.  Internal Vatican materials show the complexity of the relationships between the Holy See and the Republican and Rebel governments at various points through this period.  Private communications amongst Church and State representatives help to highlight the awkward and often problematic position facing the Vatican hierarchy in relationship to Spain.  The Holy See did try to find possible solutions during the turmoil, but it was the Spanish Right that rejected peace and reminded the Holy See of the imaginary crusade launched against an invented dangerous atheistic horde.  In the end, the Vatican remained publicly silent, but pressures placed upon its leadership by outside sources forced the Church’s hand more than many might have previously understood.

The following extract is from Chapter 8 “Bombings and Civilians: Rebel Rejection of Mediation.” In this chapter, Vatican sources are used to highlight the private lines of communication used by the Holy See to see if any form of a negotiated peace settlement or even brief truce could be established in late 1938, as the Republican cause seemed doomed.  As this portion shows, the Holy See did attempt to end some bloodshed, but even the Vatican hierarchy understood that any power to stop this violence rested solely in the hands of the Rebels—and they did not want peace. 

By November 1938 Republican representatives informed Parisian Nuncio, Valeri, of the desperation of the Government.  Valeri learned that the emissary came to “Ask if the Pope would not have been able to act as an intermediary. I replied that no one wished more than the Holy See to end the conflict but that the mediation, to leave aside the rest, could not be taken into consideration from the moment that one of the parties, namely General Franco, did not want to consider it.”[1] Valeri openly admitted to the Republican emissary the only thing stopping Vatican mediation was the reaction of General Franco.  Valeri also learned of the desperate conditions of the Barcelona Government, which, given its weakness and that of its military, was not going to survive much longer.[2]  Valeri was constrained—from reading his letter one could assume he wanted to pursue the possibility of serious mediation in Spain, but because the Burgos Government would not agree to any conditions, the Holy See was unable to act, as was clearly explained in the 1929 Lateran Accords.  Each time the suggestion of mediation arose, the Rebels rejected it.  Each time the Rebels were questioned regarding revenge, they rejected the assumption and claimed no agreements were necessary.  The Franquistas did not want mediation of any sort, including from the Holy See, and they would prevent any serious plan from occurring.

On 17 November 1938, Burgos again became concerned about the international media’s reporting on the conflict in Spain.  According to the Rebel Embassy to the Vatican, the Republicans had been supplying false information to newspapers in order to sway public opinion, “The extraordinary escalation in the campaign that the Red Government of Barcelona carries out to give the impression to the world and very specially to the Holy See of a radical change in its policy of cruel persecution of the Catholic Church and its Ministers that has covered in blood the land of Spain.”  The target for the Rebels was the media as “Sometimes the articles are published in unscrupulous newspapers…they also use radios, a very recent partner of Diplomacy, when it cannot justify the direct talks, and they use all resources available to them, thinking that they can give the world an impression of order and respect for religion, when this [religion] has always been ridiculed under their authority.”[3]   The Rebels claimed Republicans had utilized this campaign to try to influence the world, but most specifically the Church.  If the Republic was able to influence the opinions of the Church, then maybe the Holy See would become more active in trying to end this conflict.  The letter continued by highlighting “inaccurate” articles published in newspapers like Le Temps, La Croix, El Boletín, and others that suggested changes in the Republic and the Republic’s willingness to support the rights of the Church.[4]  Burgos rejected these claims and reminded the Church of the uncontrolled violence against Catholicism, claiming that the most dangerous weapon used by the Republic was its ability to manipulate the media.[5]  Therefore, the Rebels wanted the Holy See to not believe the international media—even though many of these reports were probably accurate.

Because the Republican Government had been able to utilize the international media in France and Britain to gain sympathy, the Rebels hoped to keep the Holy See well informed about the ongoing battles in Spain, in order to prevent the Republicans from claiming any serious war crimes occurred and changing the mood of the Vatican hierarchy.  On 18 November the Rebel Embassy at the Holy See sent a letter to the Vatican to report on its decisive victory at the River Ebro, allowing its army to get farther into Cataluña, cutting the region off from the rest of the Republican controlled territory, and preventing access to the French border.  The letter was sent to share the “good news” with the Holy See and ended, “I believe it is my duty to turn the attention of Your Most Reverend Eminence to the transcendental character of this glorious military victory, whose consequences will reflect, without a doubt, effectively in the resolution of the war.”[6]  The Rebels wanted to explain to the Holy See that this victory was influenced by their religious strength yet, by stating this battle would effectively end the Civil War, the Insurgents wanted to show the Holy See the conflict was almost over and any mediation unnecessary.  Burgos clearly intended to end the War with a complete victory and were concerned about a possible Vatican initiative concerning the conflict.  Presumably, the Vatican realized the Civil War was almost over, and the hierarchy worried angering the Rebels could hurt the authority of the post-War Church in Spain, and they did not press the issue.

After receiving the 18 November letter from the Franquista Embassy, Cardinal Pacelli wrote to the Papal Nuncio in Zaragoza noting that the Holy See still investigated the possibility of mediation, but also indicated the Rebels refused to cooperate in this arena as “We receive from various parts new and reiterated requests that the Holy See mediate in the Spanish conflict.  It has been made clear in this regard that the National Government will not accept any mediation.  Still, should there be any possibility in this regard; Your Excellency must know that the Holy See in the desire to return much longed-for peace to this beloved and tested nation would always be willing to intervene.”[7]  Cardinal Pacelli knew that the Rebels would not accept mediation, which had been made clear over and over again, however, Cardinal Pacelli believed if any window for mediation could be found then the Papal Nuncio was to suggest action.  This information reveals that even though the Holy See had been told “no” numerous times, it was still willing to work on that project if the chance arose.  The Holy See did have an interest in negotiating a peaceful solution for Spain, but the Rebels had a greater interest in fighting the Civil War until the bitter end.

[1] “Chiedere se il Santo Padre non avesse potuto intervenire come intermediario.  Ho risposto che nessuno quanto la Santa Sede desiderava la fine del conflitto ma che la mediazione, a presecindere dal resto, no poteva esser pressa in considerazione dal momento che una della parti, cioè il Generale Franco, non ne voleva sapere.” ASV: AES, Spagna: Fasc. 347 Pos. 938-440, 62r-v.

[2] ASV: AES, Spagna: Fasc. 347 Pos. 938-440, 62v.

[3] “El recrudecimiento extraordinario en la Campaña que el Gobierno de los Rojos de Barcelona lleva a cabo para tartar de dar la impresión al mundo y muy especial a la Santa Sede de un cambio radical en su politica de cruel persecusión a la Iglesia católica y sus Ministros que ha cubierto de sangre la tierra de España…Unas veces son los articulos publicados en periodicos poco escrupulosos,…; se utilizan también las emisoras de radio, colaboradoras recientísimas de la Diplomacia, cuando no se pueden justificar los coloquios directos, y echan mano en suma de cuanto recursos están a su alcance, creyendo así poder dar al mundo una impression de orden y respeto a la Religión, cuando esta ha sido escarnecida siempre bajo su autoridad…” ASV: AES, Spagna: Fasc. 344 Pos. 935, 40r-40v.

[4] ASV: AES, Spagna: Fasc. 344 Pos. 935, 40v.

[5] ASV: AES, Spagna: Fasc. 344 Pos. 935, 42r.

[6] “Creo de mi deber atraer la atención de Vuestra Eminencia Reverendisima sobre el carácter transcendental de esta gloriosa Victoria militar, cuyas consecuencias se reflejarán, sin duda, eficazamente en el resultado de la guerra.” ASV: AES, Spagna: Fasc. 344 Pos. 935, 45r-v.

[7] “Giungono da varie parti nuove e reiterate insistenze perchè Santa Sede interponga mediazione conflitto spagnolo.

Già si è rispetto constare che Governo Nazionale non intende accettare mediazione alcuma.Qualora tutavia si presentasse qualche possibilità in proposito, voglia V.E. tener presente che Santa Sede nel desiderio di ridonare sospirata pace cotesta diletta et tanto provata Nazione, sarebbe sempre disposta ad intervenire.” ASV: AES, Spagna: Fasc. 347 Pos. 938-440, 68r.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: