A memorial service was held on Sunday, for 14 priests executed by Franco’s forces in the Basque Country during the Spanish Civil War.
The bishops of the Basque Country have issued an apology for the Church’s silence over the episode. None of the priests was given a proper funeral, nor did most of them have their deaths registered.
Speaking at the Mass in the Cathedral of the Basque regional capital yesterday, The Bishop of Vitoria, Miguel Asurmendi, said: “today we settle an outstanding debt, for the unjustifiable silence of Church officials over the deaths of the priests…" "Such a long silence was not only a wrongful omission, but a lack of truth and an act against justice and charity, for which we ask pardon," Bishop Asurmendi said.
The service was attended by the Bishops of Bilbao and San Sebastián, representatives of the Basque government and other politicians, more than 200 priests, and friends and family of the priests who died.
Bishop Asurmendi asked for forgiveness in the name of the Church in the Basque Country, saying the intention is not to ‘reopen wounds’ but to help to heal them. He called on God to give the Basque people the strength they need to reject violence as a way of resolving differences and conflict.
Only two of the deaths were recorded on parish registries, and the remaining 12 are now to be officially registered, with details also on each of the priests to be published in the official bulletin of their respective dioceses.
The apology marks the first time the Church in Spain has expressed any remorse for its role in the Spanish Civil War. The Church hierarchy supported Franco from the moment the war began in 1936 and continued throughout the 40-year dictatorship.
The priests, killed in 1936 and 1937, had been officially forgotten. The "painful circumstances" surrounding their deaths were unknown, Bishop Asurmendi said, but "testimony from many of their parishioners and companions indicates they were seized while they carried out their duties. For years their names were relegated to silence.” Two of the priests were known to have been shot.
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