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THE GLEICHSCHALTUNG OF SPANISH CATHOLIC ACTION

The HOAC—but, it should be clear by now, not only the HOAC—was in the midst of one of the most dynamic and tragic struggles by working-class forces to obtain justice in post-World War II European history. And the upper ranks of the Spanish Catholic hierarchy closed ranks with the oppressor. There was probably no country in Western Europe where the Catholic community was as deeply divided as Spain. An unabashedly traditionalist curia faced off against an increasingly restless and recalcitrant grassroots flock. Of course, by no means all Catholics in Spain took sides against secular and ecclesiastical authorities. Far from it! But when people began to actively engage in the quest for individual and collective liberation, a stark line was being drawn. It was for good reasons that the Council of Ministers, the highest body of policy makers in Franco’s Spain, discussed papal encyclicals and the documents emanating from Vatican II in its regular sessions.[1]

In earlier years, ecclesiastical authorities had mostly targeted individual figureheads when the need was felt to emphasize the consequences disobedience might entail. Guillermo Rovirosa, the tireless agitator for working-class emancipation and a communitarian future, in late 1955 was removed as editor of the most important publication geared towards HOAC members, the Boletin de militantes, earlier called the Boletin de dirigentes, the name change itself already symbolizing the switch towards grassroots activism under way within Spanish Catholic Action. In 1957, he was then removed from all positions he held within his brainchild, the HOAC.[2] In 1964, the theologian and soulmate of Rovirosa, Tomas Malagon, was forced to relinquish his position as national chaplain of the HOAC.[3] Yet, contrary to the expectations of ecclesiastical and secular authorities in Francoist Spain, opposition sentiments kept growing. And Catholic workers stood in the vanguard of this liberation movement from below.

As to the HOAC, in 1963 it further increased the stakes by creating a publishing house, ZYX, which, along with similar HOAC ventures, ‘became the very first initiative to introduce radical working-class writings into Spain in the early 1960s’. The classics of the Spanish socialist and anarchist tradition, including works by the veteran socialist Julian Zugazagoitia and the anarchist Angel Pestana, were republished and thus made available to a popular audience for the first time in a quarter of a century. Studies of Yugoslav selfmanagement or of topics such as the agrarian revolution in Castroist Cuba were published by Editorial ZYX. ZYX—and the HOAC in general—soon became a trusted ally of the secular Left. The widow of one of the foremost leaders of Spanish social democracy, Julian Besteiro, transferred the copyright of her late husband’s writings to Editorial ZYX, ‘and Cipriano Mera, the [legendary veteran] anarcho-syndicalist leader, offered his archive to the management team of this publishing house’.[4] But, of course, it was not only

HOAC which shifted considerably to the left in Spanish Catholic milieux in the course of the troubled Spanish sixties.

By 1966, the Spanish curia had seen enough. It went onto its final offensive against the most forceful and imaginative defenders of progressive Catholicism in Europe at that time. Less than nine months after the closing ceremony of Vatican II, the Spanish hierarchy began its concerted and coordinated campaign to break the back of recalcitrant specialized Catholic Action. Precisely at the moment when progressive Catholics in Spain had managed to successfully overcome the traditional hostility of the Spanish secular Left against all things Catholic, precisely when specialized Catholic Action groups were forging close alliances with other opposition forces, the curia began to shut down the infrastructure of offices and other support systems for the HOAC, the JOC, and similar organizations belonging to both the youth and the adult wings of specialized Catholic Action.73

The Spanish curia in many ways achieved its goals. The dynamism of specialized Catholic Action was halted in full flight. Under attack from both secular and ecclesiastical authorities, Catholic Action members now were forced to focus on defending their home turf within the structures of the church. The social impact of progressive Catholicism was, thus, dramatically— and, one should add, artificially—cut short and reduced precisely at a moment when opposition movements within and outside the Catholic church had become seemingly unstoppable. Membership in specialized Catholic Action drastically declined. In one sense, Spanish progressive Catholics never recovered from this dramatic loss of power and influence within the anti- Francoist parallelogram of forces. When the curia-driven campaign came to an end, the former flagship organizations of Catholic Action were a pale shadow of their former selves.

By the 1970s, it was the secular Left which clearly began to pull nearly all the strings in opposition movements to Francoist rule. Moreover, secular Marxist countless informative documents on ZYX in AHOAC 140, including such items as, for example, the detailed and stimulating text of a speech by Teofilo Perez Rey, ‘La Editorial. Nacimiento y evolucion’—AHOAC 140.20.

73 The historian of this counterattack by the hierarchy is Feliciano Montero Garcia, whose La Action Catolica Especializada en los anos sesenta (Madrid: Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia, 2000) will remain the indispensable reference work on this massive wave of unabashedly reactionary repression by church authorities at the beginning of the final ten years of Francoist dictatorial rule. Montero, it should be pointed out, is the most outstanding historian of Spanish Catholicism, including dissident Catholicism, in the crucial third quarter of the twentieth century. Another modern classic is his La Iglesia. De la colaboracion a la disidencia (1956-1975) (Madrid: Encuentro, 2009). A major resource and theological compendium focusing precisely on the conflict between the curia and Spanish Catholic Action is Antonio Murcia, Obreros y obispos en el Franquismo. Estudios sobre el significado eclesiologico de la crisis de la Action Catolica Espanola (Madrid: HOAC, 1995), with a foreword by none other than Johann Baptist Metz.

underground groupings were now frequently benefiting from an influx of disenchanted radical Catholic activists, who now joined the secular Left in significant numbers, some of them now discarding their religious faith along with the Catholic Action membership cards. Tragically, it was only at this nadir of progressive Catholicism in Spain that a major sea change began to affect the ranks of the Spanish curia. From one of the, quite literally, oldest— and one of the most conservative—Catholic national hierarchies in all of Europe, the Spanish curia underwent an inevitable generational change in the space of a few years. By the early 1970s, the Spanish curia suddenly became a force for change, not only ecclesiastical but also political change. Spanish progressive Catholicism obtained a second wind, but it was perhaps too little and, definitely, too late. Spanish progressive Catholics would never again play such a central role as they had in the heyday of specialized Catholic Action up to the late 1960s, when in particular its working-class organizations appeared to lead the way.

  • [1] Lopez Garcia, Aproximacion, pp. 160-1.
  • [2] Comision Permanente de la HOAC, Guillermo Rovirosa, pp. 69-74.
  • [3] Casamayor, Teologia, p. 107.
  • [4] Citations taken from Rafael Diaz-Salazar, Nuevo socialismo y Cristianos de izquierda(Madrid: HOAC, 2001), p. 56. The remarkable story of the Editorial ZYX is described insomewhat greater detail in Carlos Diaz, ‘De ZYX, aquel cristianismo sociopolitico, al InstitutoEmmanuel Mounier’, XX Siglos 5, no. 22 (1994), pp. 96-106; and, perhaps most readilyaccessible, in Lopez Garcia, Aproximacion, pp. 191-5. The HOAC archival holdings include
 
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