Monks at Valley of the Fallen denounce irregularities around Franco exhumation

Family members carry the coffin of Francisco Franco out of the basilica of the Valley of the Fallen Oct 24 2019 Credit Mariscal Pool AFP via Getty Images Family members carry the coffin of Francisco Franco out of the basilica of the Valley of the Fallen, Oct. 24, 2019. | Mariscal/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.

The prior of the Benedictine Abbey at the Valley of the Fallen, whence the body of Francisco Franco was exhumed Thursday, has written that the exhumation fails to respect the inviolability of the abbey as a sacred place.

Fr. Santiago Cantera, prior of the Abbey of the Holy Cross, sent a message to Pope Francis; the abbot of Solesmes Abbey; and Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid noting the violation.

Franco's body was exhumed from the Basilica of the Holy Cross at the Valley of the Fallen Oct. 24. It was re-interred in Madrid's El Pardo cemetery.

Franco was Spain's head of state from 1939, at the end of the Spanish Civil War when the Nationalist forces he led defeated the Republican faction, until his death in 1975. During the war, Republicans martyred thousands of clerics, religious, and laity; of these, 11 have been canonized, and 1,915 beatified.

The Valley of the Fallen is a monumental complex near Madrid which includes an abbey and basilica, the construction of which Franco ordered to honor the fallen of both sides during the civil war. The bodies of more than 30,000 victims of the war are buried in the complex.

The prior of the Abbey of the Holy Cross also filed a complaint in a Spanish court over the "non-consensual" access by the Civil Guard to the church.

"We want it to be on record that the actions of the Security Forces and the workers have been and are totally incompatible with the principle of the inviolability of places of worship and the rights of this Benedictine community; which we have made known also to the ecclesiastical hierarchy," according to a statement released Oct. 23 by the Benedictine community.

Europa Press said that the Benedictines have conveyed this complaint to the Archdiocese of Madrid, the Spanish bishops' conference, Solesmes Abbey (their mother house), and the Holy See.

Fr. Cantera filed a complaint Oct. 21 with the Guardia de San Lorenzo Court of El Escorial for "preventing access by the monks" to the basilica.

In the statement the Benedictines said that since Oct. 11, after the agreement by the Council of Ministers which decreed the closure of the Valley of the Fallen, "the Civil Guard, without judicial authorization to allow it, accessed and wandered about the premises of the abbey and, what is more serious, accessed and wandered about the basilica."

According to the religious, the Civil Guard "without any ecclesiastical authorization and occupying it 24 hours a day, violated thus both the right to the inviolability of domiciles and the right to religious freedom."

The complaint also states that on Oct. 20 the passage of the monks was prevented, since "chains and padlocks were placed on the access door between the abbey and the basilica," despite the fact that the monks are "the sole owners and custodians of the church."

However, third parties in fact have been allowed to enter the basilica and abbey "without the least supervision," and so the Benedictines said that they are not sure if these people have not contravened "the sacred character of the church, not knowing if actions incompatible with worship, piety, or religion have taken place."

Of the members of the abbey, the government allowed only Fr. Cantera to be present at the exhumation.

The government of Pedro Sanchez, secretary-general of the Spanish Socialist Worker's Party, had pledged to exhume Franco's body.

It is spending some $70,000 on the exhumation and re-burial, the BBC reported.

About 100 supporters of Franco protested the exhumation outside El Pardo cemetery Thursday.

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Franco's grandson, Francisco Franco y Martinez-Bordiu, told Reuters that "I feel a great deal of rage because [the government] has used something as cowardly as digging up a corpse as propaganda, and political publicity to win a handful of votes before an election."

Spain is due to hold a general election Nov. 10.

Franco's family tried to block the exhumation in court, but lost its appeal. They also asked that if his body were re-interred, it be moved to Almudena Cathedral in Madrid, but this, too, was rejected.

Fr. Ramon Tejero said Mass at the Franco family mausolum in El Prado cemetery after the re-burial.

In January, Alessandro Gisotti, then-interim director of the Holy See press office, said that the exhumation of Franco is a "matter that concerns his family, the Spanish government, and the local Church."

Bishop Luis Javier Argüello Garcia, Auxiliary Bishop of Valladolid and secretary general of the Spanish bishops' conference, said on numerous occasions that the Church "is not opposed" to the exhumation of the remains of  Franco according to the ruling of the Supreme Court, but asked that the country "look forward" and not "reopen wounds."

Numerous leftist groups have proposed demolishing the 150 meter high cross that presides over the Valley of the Fallen, to make it a "memorial." Some have also called for the site to be deconsecrated and the abbey closed.

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