By Robert Royal
Special to the HERALD
Following is fourth in a series of articles by Robert Royal, author of the soon-to-be released book Catholic Martyrs of the 20th Century.
Most Americans who have even heard of the Spanish Civil War have been led to believe that it was a conflict between democratic, freedom-loving Republicans on the one hand, and Fascists led by General Francisco Franco on the other. Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia portray the war in that light, though both have the decency to admit that widespread murder of Catholics took place.
Thousands of idealists from other nations volunteered to fight on the side of the Republicans in “International Brigades.” Franco’s forces were characterized as reactionary and authoritarian Catholics. But at the time, no western nation supported the Republicans, precisely because of their anti-religious atrocities. Only the Soviet Union, then closely allied with the Spanish Republicans, and Mexico, itself perpetrating atrocities against its own church at the time, backed Republican Spain.
The other countries of the world were right. In Spain, one of Europe’s most staunchly Catholic countries, large numbers of Catholics were butchered during the 1936-1939 Civil War solely for being Catholic. Unlike the martyrdoms in most parts of the world, whole sectors of the religious community were liquidated. At least 6,832 priests and religious were martyred, including 13 bishops. In the 20th century, probably no country witnessed so much bloodshed among its clergy.
The male religious martyred included 259 Claretians, 226 Franciscans, 204 Piarists, 176 Brothers of Mary, 165 Christian Brothers, 155 Augustinians, 132 Dominicans, and 114 Jesuits. The toll among the female orders was lower, but still shocking when we recall that these women could have had virtually nothing to do with the political struggle: 30 Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, 26 Carmelites of Charity, 26 Adoratrices, and 20 Capuchins, along with many others.
But perhaps the greatest fury fell upon diocesan clergy, though it varied a great deal from one place to another. Pamplona, a Nationalist and pro-Catholic stronghold, had no diocesan casualties. Barbastro in Aragon saw 123 of its 140 priests lost to Republican anarchists who were violently anti-clerical. Elsewhere, too, the pattern reflected the fortunes of war. Seville was captured early by the Nationalists and therefore lost only 4 priests. But the other large cities that remained in Republican hands for the duration of the civil war had far higher casualty figures: Barcelona, 279; Valencia, 327; Madrid-Alcalá, 1,118. In percentage terms, these represented 22, 27, and 30 percent of the diocesan clergy in the respective cities.
Remarkably, most of the murders were carried out in only the first six months of the civil war. Probably half of all clergy were, within a week of the uprising, protected in areas controlled by the Nationalists. Without the Nationalists, the slaughter could have been much greater. As it was, about a quarter of the male clergy in Republican-controlled areas disappeared. Almost none of them gave up the faith when they were threatened with death.
The threats took bizarre forms: besides the usual mayhem . . .