Francisco Franco y Bahamonde, more commonly known as Francisco Franco, headed the Franco Regime in Spain from 1939-1975. He referred to himself as “Caudillo De España Por La Gracia de Dios,” a phrase seen on the coins he minted, which means “Leader of Spain by the Grace of God.”
Throughout his four-decade-long regime, Franco drew on similar sentiments as he allied his government with the Roman Catholic Church to divinely legitimize his rule and stabilize Spain.
The Catholic Church had labeled the Spanish Civil War a “crusade,” thus providing Franco with religious legitimization for his actions in the war as well as after the war. This label also rationalized the Church’s renewed religious authority in Spain. The Church saw Franco’s rule as a chance to “[reassert] Catholic hegemony via the homogenization of Spanish culture.” Just as Franco was purging the country of political, cultural, and religious “heresy,” the Catholic Church saw this as an opportunity to reassert their own power, lost in the previous century by the divisive Carlist Wars.
During the “restoration monarchy” of 1874 to 1923, the Catholic Church had equated Spanish greatness with “intransigent Catholicism.” By the time Franco had come to power, the people of Spain had long been accustomed to Catholicism, and Franco capitalized on this familiarity to unite the country. Further, Franco extended his reliance on the Catholic Church to control the public, and surrounded himself with this uniting force: he employed in his cabinet several members of Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic organization. Those members of Opus Dei helped Franco unify Spain through Nationalism, and displayed little tolerance for divisive forces. Franco felt that “democracy, socialism, anarchism, [and particularly,] communism” had no place in his system, and he relied on “families and local communities, the Roman Catholic Church, and the workplace,” to foster a united citizenry. This system worked well for Franco, as he could avoid policing thought, as a conventional totalitarian state would attempt, and instead relied on the power of these traditional institutions to “shape succeeding generations.” Sheelagh M. Ellwood, in her Spanish Fascism in the Franco Era, writes that there was no “honourable space either for Spaniards who disbelieved Catholic dogma or were not interested in it, or for Catholics who disliked enforced absorption into a military, centralist, Spanish state.”
In essence, Catholicism played a social, political, and economic role during Franco’s regime because it “constituted the common cultural and political denominator inside the Nationalist camp.” Further, while Franco’s support for the Catholic Church stabilized Spain, the Church also received the benefits of this fully “national Catholic culture, founded on the exclusive right to proselytize (most crucially thorough the schools) and on substantial state subsidy.”
However, Franco’s long-standing connection with the Catholic Church only served to undermine his regime in the end. The Second Vatican Council, held from 1962-1965, addressed the issue of Modernity, and with it, Liberalism: the force “whose secularizing social consequences ultimately destroyed the viability of a national Catholic state.”
“A Concise History of Spain” by William D. Phillips, Jr. and Carla Rahn Phillips
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