General Franco was “Hitler-lite.” He sat out World War ii and had no dramatic plan to wipe out every Jew on Earth. But he was an authoritarian dictator who locked up tens of thousands of his own people in concentration camps and prisons. Estimates of the numbers he killed vary: Leeds University puts it as at least 130,000; other estimates are higher. The scale of the repression was so great that some have argued that the Franco regime committed genocide, or even a “holocaust.”

And all this was done with the support of the Roman Catholic Church. Under Franco, there was no religious freedom. Catholic teaching was compulsory in all schools. No other churches or religions were allowed legal status to own property or publish books. (This loosened up somewhat after the Vatican ii reforms in the early 1960s.) Spanish government money poured into the church. In return, Franco had veto power over the appointment of Spanish clergy and chose the bishops.

The Catholic Church has never issued any apology or shown any contrition for its support of Franco. “Rather than apologize for its complicity in human rights abuses, the church has adopted a strategy of confrontation and denial,” wrote Michael Phillips, senior lecturer in law at the Center for Human Rights in Conflict, University of East London, in the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion (October 2013).

Instead, this past October the church beatified 522 Catholic “martyrs” of the Spanish civil war that brought Franco to power. That war had some similarities to the one unfolding right now in Syria: There were no clear good guys: One side was backed by Hitler, the other by Stalin, and both sides committed atrocities. But the Catholic Church is (almost literally) making those on its side out to be saints, while refusing to even talk about—let alone apologize for—the crimes and atrocities that side committed. These are not the actions of an organization that has learned from its mistakes and is determined not to repeat them.

Perhaps the atrocity the Catholic Church was most involved in was Spain’s adoption scandal, which has been exposed in the last couple of years. At least 2,000 individuals have begun court proceedings after the revelation that babies were taken from their mothers in Catholic-run hospitals and sold (the mothers were told that their children had died). This was partly a money-making exercise, and partly a way to turn children from “bad” left-wing parents over to “good” Catholic ones. It was literally an attempt to breed socialism out of Spain. The 2,000 people who have pressed criminal charges are the tip of the iceberg. Many more have been unable, so far, to jump through all the hoops necessary to bring these decades-old crimes to court. Lawyers interviewed by the bbc said the number of babies involved could be as high as 300,000 between 1939 and 1987. The Spanish government has been reluctant to estimate the number of victims, but it does admit that the abuse was widespread.

This is what a Catholic economic system looks like in modern times. Looking back further in history gives an even starker warning. Any time any religion has had enough power to stamp out its competition, it has almost always done exactly that—from Charlemagne’s forcible conversion of the Saxons to modern Saudi Arabia’s much less violent ban on Christianity.

The Catholic system that the pope is advocating concentrates a huge amount of power with a few secular and church officials. History has proven, time and time again, that this formula leads to disaster.
Catholicism in Modern Spain

After Franco’s death in 1975, Spain’s relationship with the Catholic Church changed to “It’s complicated.” But now we see early signs that Spain is at the forefront of modern Europe’s return to this kind of Catholic system.

In many ways, Spain resembles any other Western democracy. It was one of the first European countries to legalize homosexual “marriage”—and it did so with the support of around 70 percent of the population. At the same time, just over 70 percent of Spaniards claim to be Catholic. Many of these Catholics clearly don’t pay much attention to the beliefs of their mother church. In fact, only around 15 percent of Spaniards regularly attend mass.

Catholicism is no longer the state religion—at least on paper. But church and state are so intertwined that it’s still hard to say where one stops and the other begins. Through direct aid, special tax treatment and the government paying the salaries of Catholic religious workers, the government gives the church over €11 billion (us$15 billion) annually, according to Europa Laica (Secular Europe), a Spanish campaign group. Spain is in the midst of a dire economic crisis, with huge youth unemployment; yet it is handing the equivalent of 1 percent of its entire economic output to the Catholic Church each year.

Even so, the church’s influence had been dwindling in Spain, just as it has across the European continent. Many view this simply as the inexorable march of progress—mankind’s journey out of the darkness of superstition into the light of scientific inquiry. The secular left sees “progress” against religion in the form of abortion becoming easier, homosexual “marriage” spreading, and euthanasia slowly becoming more common.
But in Spain, that “progress” appears to be suddenly reversing. Spain may become the first country in the EU to re-illegalize abortion. Currently, a Spanish woman can legally abort her baby in any circumstance until the 14th week of her pregnancy, or longer if the unborn baby has any deformities. But to the dismay of the political left, under a new proposed law, all abortions would be illegal except in cases of rape, incest, serious risk to the physical or mental health of the mother, or when the fetus is so deformed that it could die shortly after being born. Girls younger than 18 would need their parents’ approval. The government has a comfortable majority in the Spanish parliament, so the law is likely to pass within the next few months.


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