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Supreme Order of Christ

Thursday, November 19, 2009

According to New York Times correspondent Herbert L. Matthews in his The Yoke and the Arrows, A Report on Spain (revised edition, 1961, page 164), Francisco Franco, then the Chief of State and dictator of Spain, was awarded the Supreme Order of Christ by Pope Pius XII. This apparently coincided with a Concordat, or treaty, between Spain and the Vatican that was signed on August 28, 1953.

Matthews believes that, in the opening days of the Spanish Civil War, upwards towards 2000 Catholic priests and nuns were killed by persons who were on the anti-Franco, anti-Catholic, pro-democracy, pro-elected government of the Republic of Spain side of the civil war (hence called Republicans). What I always wonder about is, were the clergy killed simply for being members of a repressive religion, or were they killed because they were fighting for those on the side of the military coup? Probably some of both, but it would be interesting to know. Since the Catholic Church was the main force behind the coup, and was happy to use force to overthrow a legitimately elected government, exactly how do you figure that because they were priests and nuns they were innocent?

It is notable that some Catholics, and some priests and nuns, supported and fought for the legitimately elected government, and General Francisco Franco's troops killed them just the same as they killed everyone else who opposed his dictatorship.

The coup was staged on July 17, 1936. It was approved in advance by Pope Pius XI and the Catholic dictators of Italy and Germany, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. The rebels, who led most of the Spanish army, (not yet led by Franco, who became Chief of State only after two higher ranking generals died) thought the coup would be relatively easy. But the citizens of Spain fought back. If some priests and nuns fighting on the side of the generals were killed in the fighting, why should they get any more attention than the far more numerous civilians who died fighting for their right to a democratically elected government and freedom of religion? Or for that matter, than the paid soldiers who died following orders the of their generals on both the fascist and the republican side of the conflict?

What kind of man gets the Supreme Order of Christ? General Franco was in charge (he was declared Chief of State by his followers on October 1, 1936) of the rebels and set the policy of killing all captured non-Catholic men. Captured non-Catholic women apparently were killed on a more selective basis, and children were usually spared, separated from their mothers, and given to Catholic families to be raised Catholic.

In Spain even after the civil war ended non-Catholics continued to be executed, though many were simply imprisoned for long periods of time, and many fled to France or elsewhere. No one seems to know how many died in the actual fighting as opposed to the massacres that followed the fighting; no one seems to know what denominations the non-Catholics belonged to. Although many were atheists or non-religious, many were Christian Protestants.

The repression of non-Catholics continued as the policy of the Franco regime. Fortunately the Catholics lost World War II, and both Franco and the new Pope, Pius XII had to back off their plans for liquidating non-Catholics. In Spain, and in the rest of the world to the extent that he could, Franco recast Spanish Civil War as "saving" Spain from Communism. The problem with that was that the Republican side was not communist; Catholics held a significant minority of seats in the elected government, and there were very few communists in Spain.

The Concordat, according to Matthews, stated: "The Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Religion continues to be the sole religion of the Spanish nation."

Strangely, Matthews acts like it is some kind of mystery why the Pope took so long to sign a Concordat with Chief of State Francisco Franco. Catholic Concordats were in bad flavor with the victors of World War II, since the two famous ones prior to the war were made between the Vatican and Hitler and Mussolini. Pope Pius XII switched sides as fast as he could once his protégés started to lose in the battlefield. He needed to mend fences before he could build new ones.

The religious nature of the European branch of World War II is never mentioned in U.S. history books largely due to the political power of the Catholic Church in the United States.

So, at the time the Supreme Order of Christ was awarded, it was illegal to be a Christian Protestant in Spain, and a death sentence to be an atheist.

Worried about all those Catholics on the current U.S. Supreme Court? You should be. I quote from Matthews, pages 162-163:

"In 1940, the Franco regime confiscated all the Protestant Bibles they could lay hands on. The British and Foreign Bible Society in Madrid managed to bring in some Bibles for their followers after the World War. On April 24, 1956, the authorities seized these, and all efforts made by the British Embassy to get them back failed ..."

- William P. Meyers

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