MADRID (AP) — The Spanish government announced Tuesday it will use legal means to prevent the remains of Gen. Francisco Franco from being reburied under Madrid’s cathedral, a move that could undermine efforts to rid the country of the late dictator’s long shadow.
But in a sign of how sensitive the issue has become, the Spanish government and the Vatican issued conflicting statements on what’s the best way to proceed after exhuming Franco’s embalmed body from a self-aggrandizing mausoleum outside of the Spanish capital.
Franco was interred upon his death in 1975 in a prominent space at the Valley of the Fallen, where the remains of some 34,000 fighters from both sides of the Spanish Civil War lie. Spain’s center-left government decided earlier this year to exhume Franco’s remains, but it has struggled to find an appropriate new burial place.
The Socialist government is trying to persuade the Franco family to bury him in the El Pardo cemetery just outside of Madrid where his wife lies, but his nine grandchildren have agreed to receive the body only if he can be re-interred in a family sepulcher under central Madrid’s Almudena Cathedral.
The move has angered those who fear that the presence of Franco’s remains could turn the Spanish capital into a pilgrimage destination for extreme right groups and others nostalgic for Franco’s authoritarian rule.
On Tuesday, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said the Holy See’s State Secretary, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, had agreed to prevent such an outcome during their Monday meeting in the Vatican. Calvo told reporters they had agreed to “jointly find a solution that obviously can’t be the Almudena” cathedral, which belongs to the Madrid Archdiocese.
But the Holy See’s press office later released a statement clarifying that while not opposing the exhumation of Franco, the cardinal had left it up for the Spanish government and Franco’s heirs to agree to a reburial place.
The Vatican said Parolin only expressed that he saw “appropriate” Calvo’s “desire to explore other alternatives, also through dialogue with the family.” It added that the cardinal “does not oppose the exhumation of Francisco Franco if competent authorities have decided in favor, but will at no time comment regarding the place of burial.”
Catholic Church authorities in Spain had previously said they couldn’t oppose the heirs’ desire because the burial space in the Almudena Crypt is owned by the family, which bought it from the church for 30,000 euros ($34,000) more than two decades ago.
The government had also acknowledged that it couldn’t stop the reburial, but on Tuesday Calvo suggested a new approach when she said the government would use the recently amended Historic Memory Law to “guarantee that Franco is not praised in any place of the Spanish territory.”
Calvo said the law will apply to the Almudena Cathedral.
The church has also been under pressure from a small number of supporters of Franco’s dictatorship, who have rallied support from far-right politicians to halt his removal from the Valley of the Fallen.
During a recent interview with The Associated Press, the head of the foundation self-appointed to preserve the dictator’s legacy warned that any intervention by Catholic hierarchy on the issue would be seen as “treason.”
Franco Foundation’s Juan Chicharro said such efforts would be seen as “an attempt to humiliate somebody to whom the Catholic Church in Spain owes its own existence.”
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