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Mud on Paul VI

· The slanderous campaign against the Pope in September 1975 ·

His love for Spain did not fear unpopularity

After an address given by Paul VI on 27 September 1975 (cf. article published in the daily edition of L'Osservatore Romano on 26 November, p. 5), the press unleashed a campaign of attacks and insinuations against him. The extreme-right magazine “Fuerza Nueva” published a short article on 11 October which accused the Pope of publicly lying because he had said he “was not heard”, when six of the 11 people condemned to death, for whom the Pope had asked clemency, were pardoned. A few days earlier, on 19 September, the Permanent Commission of the Episcopate published a declaration on violence and terrorism, which asked for clemency for those sentenced; requests for clemency were a constant in the history of the Spanish Bishops after the war. It was an act which  Cardinal  Pla y Deniel whom the regime l ooked kindly upon and Archbishop  Marcelino Olaechea of Valencia, as well as other bishops, did not evade, although they were not always heard.

In the face of this intense campaign of denigration and disinformation of the Pope, it is necessary to make various considerations and observations.

The first clarification is a response to the alleged interference of Paul VI concerning the political issues of Spain. When various people intended to silence the Pope's voice, alluding to his status as a “Head of a foreign State”, they forgot two distinct points: that the Pope, as Pastor of the universal Church, not only had the right but the duty to intervene with his pastoral enlightenment, approving and disapproving, in all the issues regarding the conscience of his Catholic children. The second is even more superfluous and almost ridiculous. When some commentators stated that the Pope welcomed with a smile the leaders of Communist countries and semi-uncivilized heads of African countries and that on the contrary he seemed to reserved his requests for Spain alone, he was in fact offending Spain and its leaders. The third clarification is simply an invitation to read the papal words as they were spoke and to insert them in the context of the intentions with which they were truly said. It is an invitation to see in  those words what they effectively contained: an ethical and Christian judgement, rather than a legal or political one. His words defend life and not terrorism, a necessary requirement and not an offense to Spain, a desire to help leaders and not to oppose them. Help and a need, painful as any paternal scolding, but for which we should be ever more grateful, since the Pope himself had suffered in speaking them.

Paul VI was neither poorly informed, nor did he speak rashly. He assumed, fully aware, the risk of unpopularity in Spain, just as he had assumed risks linked to other decisions made at a global  level. In that difficult moment for the country, what Spain needed most was true friends. The best friends were certainly not those who always and in everything agreed with the Spanish regime, but those who dared to demand of it greater progress, loftier, more exemplary and more difficult. Among these friends was Pope Paul VI, who desired for Spain a peaceful transition towards democracy, which he had supported  since  the beginning of his Pontificate in 1963.

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