Benedict XVI: Gung ho for Franco's poodles, but still kowtowing to Beijing with the Dalai Lama Print E-mail
 December 3, 2007

Did beatifications carry another message?

By James Carroll

SO THE Spanish cardinal says to the young King Juan Carlos, "Your Highness, there is good news and there is bad news." The king naturally asks for the good news first. The cardinal answers, "Generalissimo Franco is dead." The king is pleased to hear it. "What's the bad news?" he asks. "The bad news is - you have to tell him."

The assumption in 1975, the year of Francisco Franco's death, was that he would live forever. Hence the joke. The ruthless leader of the Fascist forces that overthrew the Republican government during Spain's bloody Civil War, Franco had outlived his allies and enemies both, and an air of invincibility clung to him. The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, still has an analogous indelibility in the broader mind. In part because of writers like Hemingway and Orwell, and legends of the International Brigades, including the American Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the sepia haze of lost-cause romance hangs over the conflict in many circles. In others, the memory is only bitter.

The Spanish Civil War was a dress rehearsal for World War II, with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany aligned with Franco, and the Soviet Union and a broad coalition of liberals and socialists aligned with the Republicans. The groundbreaking brutality of the Civil War included bombardment from the air of civilian population centers (most notably, the Luftwaffe bombing of Guernica), and the mass slaughter of innocents by both sides. Religion was a defining note of the war, with the Republicans marked by ferocious anticlericalism, and the Roman Catholic Church firmly allied with Franco, who styled himself a defender of the faith.

All of this came leaping back from out of the past last month when the Catholic Church formally beatified 498 "Spanish martyrs," mainly clergy who had been killed by the anti-Franco Republican side during the Civil War. Conducted in St. Peter's Square, the ceremony elevating these candidates one step closer to full sainthood was the largest beatification in history. Those honored were, Pope Benedict XVI said, "heroic witnesses of the faith who, moved exclusively by love for Christ, paid with their blood for their fidelity to him and his church." The pope was implying here that these martyrs were not motivated by politics, even as the Vatican insisted their beatification was not meant to be political either. But one could wonder.

The Vatican is at odds with the Socialist government that came to power in Madrid in 2004, advancing numerous policies (relating to divorce, gays, and so on) to which Catholic leaders object. The Spanish government was represented at the beatification ceremony, but within days the Spanish Parliament passed a "Law of Historical Memory" that condemned Franco's brutalities during the Civil War.

There is nothing new in the Vatican's scoring political points by those it chooses to elevate toward sainthood. When the English martyr Thomas More was canonized in 1935, as Spaniards were choosing up sides, it was decidedly as an example of a politician who put loyalty to the pope over loyalty to his king. More's canonization, that is, could be taken in Spain as an invitation to reject the anticlerical authority of the Republican government. The church affirms its present priorities by lifting up examples from the past. But when, as today, religiously enflamed politics represents a grave new threat to world order, one wonders what the saint makers are thinking this time?

One need not deny the individual innocence of the 498 "Spanish martyrs" to understand that their celebration may have effects that are anything but innocent. The facts that these people were probably targeted merely for wearing cassocks or religious habits, and that they symbolize the many who fell to the grotesque excesses of Civil War violence are not enough to justify such glorification. Context, in this case, is everything. Francisco Franco was no defender of the faith, and the church, in its alliance with him, was corrupted. He was an instrument of world-historic carnage, a seeder of the cloud that showered Europe with poison in the aftermath of Spain's Civil War.

Catholic opposition to Stalinism was correct, but church friendliness to Fascism was disastrous. If those years are to be revisited, it should not be for the faux-virtue of victimhood, but for reckoning with the era's unsaintly ambiguity. This beatification honors one side of a wicked war, while continuing to demonize the other. Why? The Vatican still aims to exonerate itself for failures of the 20th century, which keeps in place its moral irrelevance for crises of the 21st. No joke.

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.

December 22 2007

The Vatican's Cold Shoulder

Original at:

REVIEW & OUTLOOK ~~ December 20, 2007

China's wrath toward those who meet with the Dalai Lama -- a list that has recently included George W. Bush and Angela Merkel -- had its desired effect in Italy last week, when Pope Benedict XVI backed out of a planned meeting with the Buddhist leader.

The meeting had been on the Dalai Lama's calendar for several months, says Thupten Samphel, a spokesperson for the exiled Tibetan government, but on Nov. 26 the Vatican announced that nothing of that sort was on the Pope's schedule. No reason was given for the cold shoulder. Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi stressed that the Dalai Lama had other reasons for coming to Italy, anyway. "Last year the Pope received him. I don't think it is necessary to receive him every time he has come."

If they had met, the two would have had a lot to talk about. For both men, gaining religious freedom for their followers in China has been high on their agendas. Earlier this year, Pope Benedict took the unprecedented step of writing a lengthy letter to Chinese Catholics that expressed tempered support for China's state-run Catholic Church and
encouraged Chinese bishops to openly express their loyalty to the Pope.

Italian media speculated that the Pope canceled the meeting to ease relations with China just before Beijing's appointment of a pro-Vatican bishop in southern China. The bishop, who has in the past proclaimed his loyalty to the Pope, was ordained on Dec. 4 in Guangzhou.

It's nice that the Vatican can now count one more Chinese bishop in its fold. But the Pope's decision not to meet with the Dalai Lama is a disappointment in the broader fight for religious freedom for Catholics and people of other creeds in China.

 December 13, 2007

Pope cancels meeting with Dalai Lama

From correspondents in Rome
Article from: Agence France-Presse

TIBET'S exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama arrived in Rome for an annual summit of Nobel peace laureates but a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI was cancelled at the last minute.

The Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel peace prize in 1989, will be received by Italy's lower house of parliament. He came to Rome from northern Italy where he lectured at a seminary, the Telenews agency reported.

Apart from the Tibetan leader, the former Russian and Polish presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa, who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 and 1983, are attending the Annual Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in Rome.

The summit has been orgainsed by the city of Rome for the past eight years.

Beijing has complained to the Italian foreign ministry over the visit, even though the Dalai Lama will not meet with any members of the Italian government.

A planned meeting with Pope Benedict XVI was cancelled, in a decision that Italian media reports said facilitated the ordination on Tuesday of a new bishop in Guangdong, southern China, with the Vatican's approval.

The political high point of the Dalai Lama's stay will likely be his meeting with Italian MPs in Rome.