Spanish Church says will not oppose Franco exhumation

Madrid (AFP) –

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Spain's Catholic Church said Thursday it would not oppose the exhumation of the remains of late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and their removal from a huge state mausoleum outside Madrid.

Spain's Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the green light for the government to remove Franco's remains from the hillside mausoleum topped by a 150-metre (500-feet) cross, rejecting an appeal against it by the late dictator's descendants.

But Santiago Cantera, the prior of the Benedictine monks who manage the mausoleum where Franco is entombed, fiercely opposes the plan. Franco's government had close ties with the Roman Catholic Church.

Asked by the court's decision at a press conference on Thursday, the secretary general of the Episcopal Conference of Spain, Luis Arguello, said the Spanish Church would "respect the decision of Spanish authorities and would therefore not oppose the exhumation of Franco."

"The prior, through the media, has expressed his desire to examine the court ruling in detail, and he has also said that he would listen to what his hierarchical superiors tell him," he added.

If he is reluctant to let the exhumation go ahead, the abbey that manages the basilica and the Vatican could mediate "to help the prior make his decision," Arguello said.

Cantera stood as a candidate for the fascist Phalange party during Spain's 1993 general election, according to the government.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialist government has made it a priority to transfer Franco's remains from the Valley of the Fallen, 50 kilometres (30 miles) outside of Madrid, saying Spain should not "continue to glorify" the dictator who died in 1975.

Franco, who ruled with an iron fist following the end of Spain's 1936-39 civil war, had himself planned the monument and had it built -- in part by the forced labour of some 20,000 political prisoners.

Many in Spain are repulsed by the existence of the monument, which holds the remains of more than 33,000 dead from both sides of the civil war.

The government plans to rebury Franco's remains next to those of his wife in the family tomb at Mingorrubio El Pardo, a state cemetery 20 kilometres north of Madrid where various political figures are buried. No date for the exhumation has been set.