.- Updated May 17, 2011 at 3:18 p.m. MDT. Additional information added in paragraph 15.
A new film on the Spanish Civil War falls short in portraying the brutal persecution that the country's Catholics underwent, says author Robert Royal, Ph.D.
âThis is a part of Catholic history that has been long neglected,â he said, but âthe movie is too nervous to tackle it.â
Released to theaters on May 6, the historical epic âThere Be Dragonsâ was directed by Roland Joffe, known for his work in the acclaimed 1986 film âThe Mission.â
âThere be Dragonsâ shows the intense conflict that arose in Spain between the Nationalists attempting to protect the establishment and Republican revolutionaries seeking regime change in the 1930s. The film also highlights a young St. Jose Maria Escriva, who survived the war went on to found Opus Dei.
Royal â who heads the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. â said that although the revolutionaries' struggle for democracy at the time was legitimate, âthe way the various factions on the Republican side pursued this is an outrage.â
âSpain is one place where brutality against the Catholic Church in the 20th century was really quite extraordinary,â Royal told CNA in a May 11 interview. Royal is an expert in comparative literature and author of several books, including a comprehensive volume on 20th century martyrs.
He estimates that there were around 6,000 Catholics killed in Spain during the civil conflict.
Entire seminaries and convents of women religious were âslaughtered,â Royal said, adding that in Madrid alone, there were over 1,100 priests killed.
âThat was almost one third of the number of priests in Madrid,â he noted. Six hundred more priests were killed in the cities of Barcelona and Valencia combined.
âYou're not talking about people who've done anything wrong â these people were just ordinary Catholics pursuing their vocation.â
âIt's an astonishing thing,â he said. âCatholics don't know about this. When you tell them they're shocked and they can't believe it.â
Royal gave background to the bloody conflict, saying that the country âhad a lot of trouble modernizing â there had been a long royalist tradition, a conservative side to Spain.â
However, âthere came to power, through elections in 1936, a very strongly socialist tending, pro-Soviet Union government.â
Royal said that none of the Western leaders, including England and the United States, recognized the new government in Spain, âso there was a questions about the legitimacy of it.â
âThe Republicans were the government of Spain until they were overthrown,â he explained.âThe Nationalists including many generals in the army revolted against that radical government and, after military victory, took power. Seems like a small matter, but it's led to this mistaken impression of Republicans as isolated pockets of revolutionaries.â
He continued, â(t)hat has to be dispelled as a false impression to appreciate what really happened in Spain.â
âLost in the political struggle is that an awful lot of innocent, ordinary, everyday Catholic lay people, clergy and women religious were just slaughtered.â
Royal clarified that âthere were a lot of atrocities on the Nationalist side â but the Republican side is never tarred with the same brush.â
He gave examples of atrocities committed by the revolutionaries, citing mass graves outside of women religious' convents, desecrated art and destroyed churches.
âThe utter blasphemy and disrespect shown â it just boggles the imagination.â
Royal said that the failure of âThere Be Dragonsâ to accurately show what happened is indicative of a deeper cultural problem, which is the fact that âChristian martyrdom in the 20th century has been largely overlooked.â
Persecution of Christians âis part of the secular history of the 20th century that has been neglected,â he said. âYou cannot understand the 20th century unless you understand that there were virulent anti-religious forces.â
âThere's a lot of disappointment among Catholics about that movie,â he added. âIt might have been better if they were willing to take a few chances to show how much more brutal and disrespectfulâ the revolutionaries were.
âThe message that they're trying to portray is that reconciliation is possible,â Royal said, noting a positive aspect of the film. However, âto get the point of reconciliation the truth has to be told about what went wrong.â
âYou can still forgive but the truth matters.â
Royal said that ultimately, the movie is simply âanother evasion of a very important truth that needs to be told.â