Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Spanish Bishops and Nazism during the Spanish Civil War

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Spanish Bishops and Nazism during the Spanish Civil War

Article excerpt

The anticommunist position of the Spanish bishops was unanimous during the Spanish Civil War. Their attitude toward Nazism, however, underwent a gradual evolution, from indifference (1936-37) to concern (1938-39). This change was due, in part, to the sympathy for Germany exhibited by the Spanish Falange and, above all, to the warnings of the Holy See. It did not, however, result in a unanimous and open criticism of the Nazis. The opposition of the bishops was primarily in response to papal documents and warnings from German bishops critical of Nazism's stance against Christianity, leading the bishops to question the compatibility of totalitarian ideas and Catholicism to create the new state that Francisco Franco wanted to build in Spain.

Keywords: Gomá, Isidro; Nazism; Pius XI; Spanish Civil War; Spanish bishops

1. The Second Spanish Republic and the Catholic Church

In 1930, a year before the birth of the Spanish Republic, Catholicism in Spain was in decline. Major segments of the population were indifferent or hostile to the Church, including much of the peasantry in the southern and central regions, the urban proletariat, large portions of the bourgeoisie, officials, lawyers, intellectuals, and journalists. A significant part of the country had distanced itself from the Church, but in 1930 Spain was still a Catholic confessional state that had laws protecting Catholicism and many citizens loyal to the Church due to custom, tradition, and an extensive network of Catholic charitable and educational institutions.1

When the Republic was declared on April 14, 1931, the Catholic Church was in an enormously important social position.Ten days later the Vatican instructed the Spanish bishops to tell Catholics that they should obey the new regime.The bishops did so, including Cardinal Pedro Segura, the archbishop of Toledo who was well known for his loyalty to the king and his anti-Republicanism. However, two factors were to make this initial obedience into nothing more than an empty and scarcely credible formality during the five years of the Republic.2

First, there were the anticlerical laws of the new government. The socialists and liberals led by Manuel Azaña believed that modernizing the country would require a resolution of the "religious question." The coalition in power between 1931 and 1933 feared the powerful Church that opposed the Republicans and was emotionally tied to the monarchy, judging its hold over the consciences of the people to be incompatible with progress and freedom. Therefore, ecclesiastical influence would have to be countered and reversed if the new Republican project were to survive and prosper. Thus, the new Constitution had a strong anticlerical bias. Moreover, a wave of laws between 1931 and 1933 sought to reduce the social hegemony of Catholicism. Among these, in particular, was the June 1933 law of religions and religious orders that denied the right of religious orders to teach in their own schools and placed ownership of Catholic churches under state control.3 The Catholic promises of obedience were unnecessary or irrelevant for the Republicans in government.

The second factor was church tradition that was imbedded in the culture. Over the course of centuries, cordial relations existed between the throne and the altar.The experience of a first, brief, and unstable Republic in 1873-74 gave way to the Restoration. In the peace that Antonio Canovas del Castillo made with the Church in 1876, it was agreed that Spanish political institutions could be liberal, but, in exchange, the government promised to protect the religious monopoly of the Church in a country without religious freedom.

However, this alliance was shattered in 1931. For Spanish Catholics and their bishops, the end of the monarchy meant the twilight of the secure and stable world in which they had lived. But the Republican era was not only a period of nostalgia for lost privileges but also was one of lamentation for the present, because a political-religious confrontation began in 1931 that Spanish Catholics and their bishops viewed as a persecution of their faith. …

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