In new setback to Franco reburial, religious leader denies access to tomb

Spanish government says it will forge ahead with plans to take late dictator out of Valley of the Fallen

The tomb of Francisco Franco inside the basilica of the Valley of the Fallen.
The tomb of Francisco Franco inside the basilica of the Valley of the Fallen.Samuel Sanchez

A new chapter is unfolding in the ongoing saga over what to do with the body of late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.

In the latest development, the Catholic Church has informed government officials that it is denying them authorization to access the mausoleum where Franco is buried inside the Valley of the Fallen, a controversial Civil War memorial located in the mountains outside Madrid.

The obstructionist position of Prior Santiago Cantera will not prevent the process from moving ahead

Spanish government

The decision was relayed on December 26 by the Prior of the Valley of the Fallen, Santiago Cantera. Two weeks earlier, Justice Minister Dolores Delgado had formally requested permission to enter the basilica. The religious leader cited the disagreement of the Franco family, and noted that the matter is still in the courts. The Supreme Court, which the Franco family has asked to stop the exhumation, is expected to hand down a decision in two to three months.

A government source said that they were “expecting this attitude from Santiago Cantera, whose ideological history is a matter of public knowledge.” The executive noted that before joining the Order of Saint Benedict, Cantera was “a candidate in the 1993 Spanish election and in the 1994 European election with the Spanish Independent Falange,” a defunct neo-fascist party.

Despite this new setback, the government of Pedro Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), says it will forge ahead with its plans.

“The obstructionist position of Prior Santiago Cantera will not prevent the process from moving ahead,” said the executive in a release. “Despite the setbacks that could result from Prior Cantera’s refusal, the government maintains its decision to press ahead with the exhumation process, while respecting every guarantee that the Franco family is entitled to by law.”

A long legal battle

The Valley of the Fallen contains a mass grave with around 30,000 bodies as well as the tombs of Franco and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the fascist Falange Española. The nature of the memorial and the need to reform it has been the subject of years-long debate in Spain.

Pedro Sánchez, who accessed power in early June on the back of a no-confidence vote against Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party (PP), made it a priority to move Franco’s remains out of the basilica in order to make the Valley of the Fallen a more neutral place to honor the victims of the 1936-1939 war and subsequent dictatorship.

The prior noted that the matter is still pending a decision by the Supreme Court

But his plan has met with fierce opposition from the Franco family, which has retained top lawyers to devise ways to prevent it. In October, the family said that if forced to take their grandfather out of the Valley, they would move him to the family vault inside La Almudena cathedral, in the heart of Madrid’s most tourist-heavy district.

In response, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo traveled to Rome to discuss the matter with Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis’ right-hand man. The government also sought to block the move by amending the Historical Memory Law, but this was not possible due to opposition from other parties.

In late December, the government’s Madrid delegate produced a report citing security reasons to prohibit Franco’s reburial in La Almudena. The report said there would be a risk of confrontations between Franco detractors and supporters.

English version by Susana Urra.

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