Memorandum of Some of the Basque Clergy to Pope Pius XII (1944)

An example of Franco’s repression of priests. A group of priests in the Concordat Prison, located in Zamora. A prison for dissident priests and so-called “rojo-separatistas” (red-separatist priests.) Source.

[Originally published 25 November 1944, in Xavier d’Iramuno’s Persecuted, defamed, abandoned: the Basque clergy defending justice and brotherhood it serves the Church of Christ, pp. 11-26. The following text can also be found in Church and society: Catholic social and political thought and movements, 1789-1950 (1953)]

On the western side of the Pyrenees there is a people—Euzkadi, of the ancient community of the Basque States—which has preserved its racial peculiarities and its traditional culture since the most remote times.

To its ancient religious beliefs is due, without doubt, the formation of a kind of humanism in the Basque people, that is, a state of society which respected the individual and served him, in which he could freely develop and express himself.

Christianity has become so deeply rooted and is so kept alive among the Basques, that it has rightly been said that they are today one of the most Christian races in South-west Europe.

In recent centuries, particularly in the nineteenth, the Spanish Monarchs and Governments have deprived the western Basques of their autonomous regime to such a point that there remain only a few vestiges of their old liberties in two of their four regions. In vain the Basques attempted to regain them on several occasions. But, above all, they made their protest and put up a tenacious resistance each time the neighboring States made an attack upon their rights. Their armed resistance against the totalitarian and centralist ‘Movement’ of General Franco eight years ago, was an episode in their age-old fight.

On the outbreak of the war, the insurgents announced over their radios that they had taken up arms ‘in the name of God the All-powerful.’ In their political program, disputed in some aspects, reprehensible in others, they incorporated the defense of Religion, and they called their war ‘a holy war’ and a ‘crusade.’

From then on, not only those who opposed Franco, but also those who wished to remain neutral in the conflict, were treated as enemies of God and of Religion.

Not to join the ‘Movement’ because one’s conscience would not allow one to be an accomplice in the crimes of a total war, was to be regarded as a ‘Red’ or a bad Christian.

Whoever fought against the insurgents in defense of the regional rights and liberties which they were trampling down, attacked God and collaborated with Communism, according to the mentors of the insurrection.

Whoever absented himself from the theater of war or did not join in the chorus of toadies of Franco, not being in agreement with those systematic and well-premeditated murders, imprisonments, dismissals, exiles, etc., inflicted upon thousands of peaceful persons, took the part of the enemies of God.

That is, in order to be a good Christian, to be a Catholic, it was a necessary condition to approve injustice and to practice iniquity.

But this propaganda did not succeed in every country, nor among all sections of Catholics. Many Basques, who saw how Franco’s army practised total war at the front and behind the lines, and opposed Basque autonomy, closed Basque schools, declared Basque political, social and cultural institutions illegal, imprisoned, fined and even shot many of their compatriots for having sympathized with the defenders of their people and their own rights, did not believe in the ‘crusade.’ This attitude was natural from their point of view: where there was neither justice nor charity, there was no God.

A great number of the inhabitants of our diocese regarded as reprehensible the conduct of those who, under the banner of Religion, hid such discredited ideas as totalitarianism (point 6 of the falangist program), the suppression of trade union freedom, the opposition to Basque liberties, etc., and tried to justify, in the name of Christ, such reprehensible proceedings as the bombing of open cities, the shooting of innumerable people for the sole reason that they had belonged to political groups opposed to the ‘crusade,’ confiscations of property, sackings of houses and dismissals from office and employment, which were the punishments inflicted upon their political adversaries by the insurgents.

Bands of Red gangsters looted and killed in the Government zone; but they did not do it in the name of Christ.

Franco’s supporters, fulfilling orders from their leaders, committed the same crimes to the cry of ‘Hail Christ the King’.

The Basques, who condemned the conduct of the former could not approve that of the latter.

As the Franco elements were victorious in one part of the diocese of Vitoria from the first day of the revolt, they began the persecution of part of its clergy, in accordance with the anticipated plan (which we all knew), shooting some, imprisoning others, and exiling many. At the beginning of 1938 more than 300 priests of our diocese had been persecuted by Franco and his followers.

Franco deprived the Church of Vitoria of canonical liberty. He exiled its Bishop. And after more than eight years of exile, he is still not allowed to return home to spend the last years of his life with his family.

The above, Your Holiness, are some of our complaints and anxieties.

While being opposed to commenting upon them and even to expressing them in non-competent circles, we believed that we ought to present them to our Father and supreme Pastor in the language which, in our opinion, best expresses the crude reality of the events of which we were the witness and victims.