OXFORD, England – A community of Benedictine monks have vowed to continue ministering at a Spanish Civil War memorial marked with a 460-foot cross despite a bill pending in parliament that would ban expressions of support for the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco in the 20th century.
The Benedictines have long guarded the site, located in the Valley of the Dead near Madrid.
Spain’s socialist-led government cabinet approved a final version of the bill on July 20, known as the Democratic Remembrance Act. The measure would requalify the valley as a “place of democratic memory” and would require the removal of luminaries deemed to exalt Franco, who presented himself as a devout Catholic.
“Although this bill provides for the extinction of our foundation, the text does not say anything about the disappearance of our community”, declared Father Santiago Cantera Montenegro, prior of the Valley of the Dead, after the action of the cabinet.
“So we will continue our life quietly and normally, knowing that God and our Heavenly Mother are watching over us,” he said.
In a July 22 letter to other monks, Father Cantera said Spanish media had broadcast “disturbing news” about the bill, Spanish-language online news site Religion Digital reported. He added that he hoped the Benedictine order could continue to run its hostel and music school at the site.
Franco’s remains were unearthed from a papal basilica at the site and reburied in a family crypt north of Madrid in October 2019.
Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid also criticized the bill.
“We don’t know in detail what the government wants to do in the Valley,” the cardinal said in a July 21 tweet. “But we must remember that the church, and in particular the Benedictine community present there, has always stood up for reconciliation and all victims. The cross is a symbol of love and dedication.”
In addition, the Association to Defend the Valley called on Christians to resist the changes, while more than 56,000 Spaniards also urged religious leaders and the Vatican in a September 2020 petition to oppose them as an attack. against religious freedom.
The legislation includes provisions aimed at overturning Franco-era trials and at providing redress to “victims of fascism”. The Valley of the Dead would be redesignated Civil Cemetery and Heritage Site under a transitional supervisory board.
Introducing the bill on July 20, Félix Bolaños, the minister overseeing the bill, said it reflected international standards of truth, justice, reparation and the “duty to remember” and would facilitate further investigation on the crimes of Franco’s time.
He added that the law would require the closure of the Holy Cross Foundation of the Benedictines, established in 1957, and the exhumation of other right-wing figures, but said the papal basilica could remain open if it reflected “democratic values. “.
However, Father Cantera said in his letter that it would take “months, if not years” for the law to gain passage of Parliament and royal assent after constitutional appeals, and urged confreres to “be calm. , to keep the peace and to trust God “.