2007-10-19 SPAIN

Trying to understand history

Feliciano Montero Garc├şa is a teacher of Contemporary History at the University of Alcala de Henares and consequently knows well the social and historical context in which our brothers were murdered. He has published, among other books: ?The Catholic movement in Spain?; ?Francoism and popular memory?; ?Spanish Catholic Action and Francoism: expansion and crisis of the Specialised Catholic Action in the sixties? and has collaborated on significant collective books regarding the History of Spain. As well he knows the Marist Institute since he was a student at the Marist College of Salamanca from primary years until pre-university and his brother Augustine is a Marist Brother of the Province of Compostela. He very kindly received us in the premises of the Marist Conference at Madrid where he explained to us the historical context in which occurred the death of the Marist martyrs during the summer of 1936.

AMEsta├║n. The ecclesial celebration of the beatification of a group of Marist Brothers murdered at the start of the Spanish Civil War from 1936 -1939 has been decided upon. What is the state of public opinion at this time in Spain?
Feliciano Montero.
There was a time, at the end of the Regime of Francisco Franco (leader of Spain between April 1939 and November 1975, following a coup against the government of the Second Republic on the 18th July 1936 and the Civil War which followed between the years 1936 and 1939), when the claiming of martyrs and of the civil war as ?crusaders? appears to have passed in history on behalf of an understanding and a consideration of the Spanish Civil War as a monstrous error in which all the protagonists, from one side to the other, had a certain responsibility.
After this universal recognition of faults and responsibilities, it was a compromise of reconciliation and an attempt to overcome revenge and retaliation
In this context, the multiple processes of beatification of the martyrs of the war were paralysed at the service of this objective of reconciliation as the principal way for a pacific process of transition to democracy in which the Church would play an essential role. On their side, the heirs of the vanquished would renounce claiming their own.
Time passed, the transition consolidated, the Church, towards the middle of the eighties, coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the civil war, started or relaunched the process of beatification of the martyrs, at the same time as non-Catholic sectors openly criticised the Church for its involvement and collaboration in the repressions of Francoism, and consequently, they demanded that she ask for pardon, in the spirit of the Jubilee of 2000.
More recently the research of historians and some citizen initiatives, such as ?The Association for the recuperation of historical memory? claimed with force other victims, martyrs of other causes, anonymous, disappeared, buried in common tombs, victims of the repression of conquerors during the war and during the first years after the war.

In fact a climate of confrontation coming from the violence committed during the civil war seems to have returned, in all its virulence, in the Spanish public opinion, as if it concerned a new settlement of scores. By avoiding the risk that this media confrontation can signify for the consolidation of the coexistence of citizens, it can also be the occasion for definitely ?washing?, with a sufficient distance, the latent wounds, rendered silent perhaps by fear of reproducing the conflict.

In any case, in this climate of confrontation, with the risk of a settlement of scores, or explanation of the complete ?truth? about all that happened, it is in this that we must situate the memory and the homage to our Marist martyrs. How do we do this without contributing to the exacerbation of the political confrontation?
Surely by doing an exercise of historical comprehension, complementary to the Christian reading, of the events. By putting into context what was produced according to the political, social and mental objectives of this time. By trying to respond to questions on the nature and the reasons for an anticlerical and antireligious violence, which surely came from afar, it had slowly smouldered, and which is manifested again today in a surprising and disorganised way, inexplicable and irrational, incomprehensible for historians and for the ideological or political heirs of this violence. What is surprising, as noted by the anthropologist Manuel Delgado, is the incapacity of historians and politicians to understand and assume this anticlerical and antireligious violence that caused the martyrs of the summer of 1936.

How was the current of thought of anticlericalism forged in Spain?
Evidently, the anticlericalism in Spain came from afar, it was cyclically shown in the massacres of monks in 1835, but it was especially nourished since the beginning of the 20th century, following the example of other countries, especially France of the III Republic.
Anticlericalism in its multiple manifestations and expressions, before the Second Spanish Republic, was already the expression of a defensive and offensive struggle against its antagonist ?clericalism?, that is to say, according to the perception of anticlericals, against the social, political and especially ideological weight of the secular and regular clergy in social institutions and especially in education: an influence that was considered pernicious, an obstacle to modernisation and progress.
What the anticlericals claimed as legitimate secularisation of an autonomous State, the clericals denounced as a dangerous process of dechristianisation, which was once understood as a fundamental loss of national identity and of harmonious social coexistence.
In the Spain of the ?Canovist Restoration? (political system promoted by Cánovas del Castillo during the period 1876-1923) the legal setting, the Constitution and the Concordat with the Holy See protected a regime of confession and of Catholic unity, leaving little margin to free expression and to the propaganda of liberals and agnostics.
Bit by bit, however, these cultural and pedagogical initiatives gained ground and real influence, still without succeeding in hardly modifying the legal setting of minimal tolerance for non-catholics.
In the same way, Catholicism consolidated its hegemony and its social and ideological influence by the growing implantation of new religious congregations, many like the Marists having come from France at the end of the nineteenth century and at the start of the twentieth. Male and female congregations dedicated principally to teaching and social assistance. They were precisely the principal target of the denunciation of the anticlericals from the start of the twentieth century.

A systematic campaign, parallel to settlement projects of the Congregations, tried to discredit their task and to make them responsible for all the ?evils? of the nation. The regeneration of Spain, its modernisation depended on the reduction of their presence in education.

Education is a subject of discussion and confrontation between the Spanish clericals and anticlericals. Really didn?t the regeneration of Spain depend on the reduction of the presence of the Church in the educational domain?
This thesis of anticlerical rhetoric, reiterated and assumed especially at the time of the Second Republic, did not correspond with the social reality. Rather, according to recent studies (Maitane Ostolaza), if the colleges of the Congregations developed so much in the first decades of the twentieth century, it was not only due to legal (political) protection but because they responded effectively to social demand. Their educational offer was better adapted on the other hand than the rare and weak public school to the new social demands.
But what is certain is that the contribution of the Catholic school to the economic and social ?modernisation? of a country in the process of industrialisation did not prevent its doctrinal contents (?liberalism is a sin?) from being considered pernicious by the liberals, the men of the Free Institution of Education, the freemasons and the liberal thinkers, the republicans, the socialists and the anarchists. That is to say that in the fist two decades of the twentieth century, the confrontation and the reciprocal disqualification between clericals and anticlericals did not cease growing. It dos not matter whether the arguments were real or mythical: what is certain is that they were effective in the configuration of the two blocks, of two antagonistic cultures and collective identities, called to exclude and eliminate each other reciprocally.

Amidst intense social and political turmoil, a process of measures of the secularisation of education culminated in Spain at this time. How did the educational laws promulgated during this period affect the Marists?
The Congregations law of 1933, result of a series of measures of secularisation, in accord with the articles of the Constitution, directly affected the life and the teaching activity of Congregations such as the Marists. It obliged them to secularise their colleges by placing them in the hands of civil associations if they wanted to continue to exercise their activity. But scarcely had the said law been approved when the political change which had marked the electoral triumph of the right, alleviated the situation. The anticlerical laws were not abolished, because for that it would have needed to revise beforehand the corresponding articles of the Constitution but its application was stopped or attenuated.
In effect, during the period 1933-35, a coalition of radical republicans (moderate despite the name) and Catholics of the Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rights governed in an unstable manner.
The Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rights was the majority party of the coalition but it did not have a sufficient majority to govern alone, and as well its republican sincerity was suspected by the republicans of the left and the socialists.
That?s why before the arrival of several ministers of the Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rights to the Government, the working-class left organised a general revolutionary strike (October 1934), which, even though it had failed except in the Asturias, it provoked manifestations of anticlerical violence. The death of Brother Bernardo at Barruelo was an expression of this violence which anticipated those that were going to be produced in July ? August 1936.

Was there thus a passage of legal aggressiveness, from ?legal? anticlericalism to anticlerical violence?
During the Second Republic there were already some violent episodes, especially the burning of convents on the 11th May 1931, at least one month from the proclamation of the Republic, and during the revolution of October 1934. But the anticlerical violence, the religious persecution properly said, the systematic and indistinct massacre of priests, religious and militant laypeople from Catholic organisations, the burning and defilement of places of worship, the violation and mockery of the sacraments, rites and ceremonies, was not produced before the summer of 1936. Under the form of working-class initiatives, revolutionary committees and local militia, among their revolutionary objectives had as a priority the physical elimination of the Church and of their ministers, considering them as the principal obstacle to social modification.
The multiple testimonies gathered by historians, and very especially in the classic work which is still fundamental of Antonio Montero, confirm the radical and indistinct nature of this violence, which made no difference between the ?good? or ?social? priest and the less virtuous; between the more religious and the more politically involved?
There were certainly as many variants as local and social situations. There were republicans who tried to negotiate and avoid with more or less success the executions of persons whom they had hidden and given their protection.
All the historians from one or the other side recognise the extent of the anticlerical violence (the numbers offered in the book of Antonio Montero have been accepted as good: 13 bishops, 4,184 secular priests, 2,365 male religious and 283 female religious, a total of 6,832 victims); as well as the reasons that were fundamentally religious more than political of this persecution. Though not all are in agreement with this distinction. The truth is that it was very difficult at that moment to separate the religious reason from the political reason.

Does this mean that the civil war and the consequent manifestation of anticlerical violence were inevitable?
Not necessarily. The violence in the street was very important, but it was the failed military coup that liberated the popular resistance and the revolutionary violence under the form of a great ?settlement of scores?.
The anticlerical violence continued during all the war, but it was especially intense in the months from July to September 1936, the ?bloody summer?, the time when the local powers and revolutionary committees directly controlled the situation, over and on the fringe of republican institutions.
This is what has been retained to remove or reduce the responsibility of republican authorities in the anticlerical violence of the early months; by highlighting on the contrary the attempts at mediation and covering exercised by the authorities faced with the revolutionary committees. In fact, this is what happened with the group of Marist Brothers from Barcelona saved ?in extremis? by the authority of the Generalitat (government of Catalonia), the day following the massacre of the first group.

What could be the reasons for the violence and working-class anticlericalism in Spain during this turbulent period?
As I said at the start, one does not still understand well today the reasons for this anticlerical, antireligious violence and this phobia of the sacred in the early months of the civil war. The republican authorities have tried quickly to contain it and to distinguish themselves from these actions, by washing themselves of their responsibility and by attributing them to uncontrolled agents. However, one cannot deny a certain degree of complicity with these initiatives. And especially the question is to explain the possible connection, even without wanting it, between the verbal violence and the accumulated propaganda since the start of the century and especially during the thirties, and the working-class violence.
Some authors, in an anthropological perspective, suggest very profound and ancient reasons that must be seen with the absence of the Protestant reform. From the study of cultures and of political identities, others seek roots more linked to the struggles for the secularisation of the State and of the society that were given in all the Latin Catholic countries (France, Italy, Portugal). In any case, it seems clear that in the violence in the summer of 1936 there were combined various elements or factors of origin and of diverse nature, of old prejudices or images of the ?vices? of the clergy and the most recent settling of scores in relation with the control of working-class education and union struggles.

Can one attribute the working-class anticlerical violence to a reason of defence faced with the alignment of the Church, to its collaboration with the military coup, and even in some cases in the material participation in the struggle, by stocking arms or by using religious buildings as fortresses?
The denunciations of this type have not been able to be demonstrated; and on the other hand, the manifestation of the violence and the anticlerical persecution was previous or simultaneous to the first events of the war, when one could hardly know with certitude what had happened. That does not mean that the massacre of ecclesiastics was planned beforehand but that it was a priority revolutionary objective, a condition anticipated for the realisation of other objectives. It was a conviction long nourished by the reflection and the propaganda of the press and working-class atheists.

What was the perspective of the Spanish Catholic Church in relation to the confrontation for the school and for working-class education?
One of the clearest expressions of the clericalism-anticlericalism confrontation, or Catholicism-secularism, is the struggle for the school, that is to say for the control of the educational contents and the whole of the educational system.
In the Catholic perspective, in the name of the liberty of teaching one had already posed in the national Catholic Congress at the start of the twentieth century (Burgos 1899 and Santiago 1902) the possibility of the creation of teaching centres faced with what they called the ?the monopoly of the teaching State?, and with that, the defence of religious Congregations faced with settlement projects and the control of its activities (in 1910 the Government presided over by Canalejas approved the law called ?the law of the padlock?, which prevented the establishment in Spain of new religious orders without the express authorisation of the Council of Ministers).
The anticlerical pressure seemed to cede between 1912 and 1931, and in the protected climate of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, the Catholic school in its various expressions did not cease growing. A table of the evolution of the schools, of communities and of Marist vocations in the Province of Spain between 1919 and 1931, shows this growth well. The number of colleges and schools passed form sixty to sixty-nine, that of the brothers from 587 to 813 and that of the students from 13,023 to 20,246.
The good health of the Catholic school did not miss arousing the preoccupation of its antagonists. In this as in other subjects yet to be ?secularised?, the proclamation of the Second Republic was the occasion to carry out the objectives of secularisation in a radical manner. That was also reflected in article 26 of the Constitution of 1931, and in a more entire way in the Law of religious Congregations of June 1933. According to article 30 of the Law of Congregations, the orders and religious congregations could not dedicate themselves to the exercise of teaching (?) the Inspection of the State would see to it that the orders and religious congregations could not create or support private teaching colleges, neither directly nor by using civil intermediaries. And article 31 imposed an immediate concrete time limit for the exercise of this teaching.

What was the reaction of the Marist Brothers faced with the laws of secularisation which prevented them from teaching, creating schools or supporting colleges of private teaching?
The Congregations took good note of the new situation and tried to adapt and defend themselves by taking opportune measures. The majority of them secularised their public presence (civil clothes instead of the soutanes, obtaining of official teaching titles); especially by transforming the juridical and nominal tenure of the colleges in ?mutual students?, and by transforming juridically the properties in new societies with the placing of capital abroad. The book by Brother Teodoro Barriuso on Brother Laurentino explains this necessary transformation very well.
The vicissitudes of the Republic marked the fears and hopes of survival. The hostile panorama perceived from the beginning (the burning of convents from the 11th May and from the 31st May affected some colleges), persisted and grew until June 1933 (the application of the law of the Congregations making it difficult to sustain the colleges and the communities even under their secularised aspect). But the triumph of the Catholic party, the Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rights, during the elections of November 33 aroused the hopes of a modification; and even though the modification of the legality was not produced the new governmental climate permitted the survival of Catholic colleges. Hope again radically changed with the electoral triumph of the Popular Front in February 1936. The governments of the Popular Front took up the objectives and the reformist programmes on all terrains, also on that of secularisation and the school.
But as well, the impulse of the revolutionary bases overflowed legality itself (as an example the municipal initiative of confiscating the Marist college of Orihuela).
There was a clash between the position of the Government, defending legality, the application of the Constitution and the law of the Congregations, and the working-class revolutionary pressure, which in remembering what had happened in October 34, could explode with all its virulence, as it thus happened.
From the manifestation of the war there were neither negotiations nor adaptations, and the physical elimination of persons, centres and means was imposed; the Edelvives publishing business was one of the first objectives to be destroyed.

Finally, from your point of view as an historian and as a believer, are there some lessons that the Church, and more concretely the Marist Brothers, should learn from what happened in this summer of 1936?
As an historian and as a believer, in the line of thought of the Second Vatican Council, and in the line of the spirit of the proposition made by Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the conclusion of the Millennium of inviting the Church, of inviting Christians and Catholics to a self-critical revision of their own history, I would invite the Marist Brothers to make the effort to see the past in a comprehensive way but at the same time in a self-critical way.
Even though conflicts seem to be currently reproduced between the followers who fought in one or the other camp, I think, however, that the real Spanish social context of this moment has nothing to do with the context of the thirties. In this sense there is no need to have fears. But in any case, it is necessary to try to avoid nourishing the roots that led this conflict and insist rather on the openness to dialogue with others of an ideological and social point of view and transform platforms which can potentially be in conflict into platforms of understanding and dialogue.


1868 – Revolution against Isabella II [exiled in France on the 30th September]
1870 ? Election of Amadeo I of Saboya as king
1872 ? Third Carlista War (1872-1876)
1873 – Resignation of Amadeo II
1873 – Proclamation of the First Republic
1874 ? Restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy with Alfonso XII [son of Isabella II]
1876 ? New Constitution and ?Municipal Law?
1885 ? Regency of Mar├şa Cristina
1893 ? Anarchist attempts (Bombing of the Opera (Barcelona) of Barcelona)
1897 ? Murder of Cánovas (Prime Minister) by the anarchists
1898 ? War with the United States
1898 ? Loss of the last imperialist colonies. Treaty of Paris
1902 ? Coming of age of Alfonso XIII
1909 ? Start of the Morocco War
1909 ? General strike in Barcelona [the TRAGIC WEEK]
1911 ? General strikes protesting against the Morocco War
1912 ? Murder of Canalejas (Prime Minister)
1917 ? General revolutionary strike in Spain
1921 ? The Spanish troops fighting in Morocco suffer the disaster of Anual
1923 ? Coup of Miguel Primo de Rivera
1927 – Peace in Morocco
1931 ? 12th April the declaration of the Second Republic
1931 ? Burning of convents in Madrid
1932 ? Failed military coup of General Sanjurjo
1932 ? Autonomy of Catalonia
1932 ? Anarchist agitation in Catalonia
1932 ? The Company of Jesus is dissolved
1934 ? The Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rights forms the government
1934 ? Revolutionary movements in Catalonia and in the Asturias
1936 ? The Popular Front wins the elections
1936 ? Uprising of General Francisco Franco on the 18th July: start of the CIVIL WAR
1939 ? End of the Civil War on the 1st April
1939 ? Government of General Franco (1939-1975)


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