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Basque bishop criticises Church's silence on Spanish civil war killings

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A Basque bishop on Saturday criticised the Roman Catholic Church's silence over the killing of 14 priests by General Franco's forces during Spain's 1936-39 civil war. Historians estimate half a million people died in the war.


AFP - A Basque bishop on Saturday criticised the Roman Catholic Church's silence over the killing of 14 priests during Spain's 1936-39 civil war at the hands of General Francisco Franco's right-wing forces.

"The silence which officials of our Church surrounded the deaths of these priests is not justifiable nor acceptable for much longer," the bishop of Vitoria, Miguel Asurmendi, said at a memorial service for the priests.

"Such a long silence was not only a wrongful omission, but also a lack of truth and an act against justice and charity," he added.

The service at a Vitoria cathedral was attended by the bishops of Bilbao and San Sebastian, family members of the priests as well as representatives of the regional Basque government.

Asurmendi said the "painful circumstances" surrounding the deaths of the priests are unknown but "testimony from many of their parishioners and companions indicates they were seized while they carried out their duties".

The Church supported Franco's 1936 insurgency against the democratically elected left-wing Republican government and the repression that followed the war.

Historians believe that several thousand priests, monks and nuns died at the hands of the Spanish republic's mainly left-wing defenders, among whom anti-Church sentiment was strong.

While the Church has beatified hundreds of "martyrs" who were killed by left-wing forces, it has remained largely silent regarding those who were killed for opposing Franco.

Franco ruled Spain with an iron first after the civil war until his death in 1975. His regime honored its own dead but left tens of thousands of its opponents buried in unmarked graves.

Historians estimate about half a million people from both sides were killed in the civil war.

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