News Analysis

Franco’s tomb is still a headache for the Church

Franco’s tomb in the Valley of the Fallen (Getty)

Spain’s Catholic Church has promised to respect a Supreme Court judgment barring the exhumation of General Francisco Franco from his mausoleum outside Madrid, while appealing to both sides in the dispute to find common ground.

“Our Church and the Vatican have always urged agreement between his family and the government, which could help smooth conflicts over the nature of our republic, the war and dictatorship”, said Bishop Luis Arguello Garcia of Valladolid, the bishops’ conference secretary-general. “We now call on everyone to look beyond this dialectic of opposites and find a reconciliatory third way to help us move forward. It’s regrettable matters have been placed in the hands of the courts.”

The bishop spoke as the Socialist-led government of premier Pedro Sánchez considered its options after the Supreme Court ruling blocked Monday’s planned removal of Franco’s remains from a Benedictine basilica at the Valley of the Fallen, citing the likely damage to “public interests incarnated in the state and its constitutional institutions”.

But the Supreme Court decision was condemned by Spain’s Association of Contemporary Historians as an “offence to victims” and violation of “the civic and democratic conscience”.

The Sánchez government ordered Franco’s exhumation in August 2018, two months after taking office, as part of plans to transform the Valley of the Fallen into “a place of common memory”, and gave the dictator’s family a fortnight to propose an alternative place of interment. However, family members said their condition would be his reburial in Madrid’s Almudena Cathedral, and appealed to the Church to block his removal until this was agreed to. The government opposed the cathedral plan, citing risks of public disorder, and demanded Franco’s reinterment instead in a civic cemetery at El Pardo.

Spain’s El Diario said the issue posed “serious problems for the Catholic Church”, which pledged to respect the Franco family’s wishes, but also feared turning the cathedral crypt into “a place of pilgrimage and Franco regime nostalgia”.

Opinion polls suggest Spaniards are divided, with around half approving and opposing the planned exhumation and reinterment.