After Vatican II, Paul VI wrote to General Franco to revisit the relationship between the Holy See and Spain
To God that which is God’s
Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini had followed the official negotiations from the Secretariat of State for the 1953 concordat with Spain; an untenable concordat after Vatican II. So two and a half years after the end of the Council, on the initiative of Paul VI, discussions were begun for a serious revision of the text of the concordat.
The Pope himself made the first move when, on April 28, 1968, he wrote to General Franco to ask him to renounce the privilege of presenting bishops before a possible revision of the Concordat, allowing the Holy See freedom in the nominations, without observing the regulations that had been in place up until then. The Vatican, for the moment, only wanted to obtain a renouncing of the privilege of presentation; the government, instead, wanted global negotiations for a new Concordat.
In his letter, Paul VI recalled the Council’s appeal to governments to renounce their privilege in nominating bishops. The privileges which Spain legitimately possessed had been conceded because of its great religious merits, but no longer corresponded to either the spirit or the needs of the times. The Pope, convinced he was interpreting the true interests of Spain, as well as that of the Catholic Church, suggested to the Head of State and the Spanish government that they renounce such privileges before a possible revision of the Concordat and reassured them that the Holy See, in nominating bishops, would have no other aim in mind than that of increasing the spiritual and religious prosperity of the nation. In any case, the Pope attempted to notify beforehand, and in a reserved way, the Head of State or the government in order to know if there were precise objections of a political nature. He concluded by offering his due esteem to the Head of State for the important work which he had undertaken for the material and moral prosperity of the Spanish nation.
The letter was personally delivered to Franco by the nuncio, Luigi Dadaglio, on Saturday, May 4th at 11 in the morning at the Pardo residence. Franco was not expecting him and ignored the reason for his visit. “That which is being asked of me is very serious,” he said. “As Head of State, in conscience, I have the duty of guaranteeing the spiritual peace and well-being of the Country.” Franco told the nuncio that the Vatican did not know Spain, did not understand Spain, and “mistreated Spain.” Then he added, “The adversaries of the government are welcomed and in contact with the Vatican, while in Madrid they try to influence the nuncios as soon as they arrive in the country.”
Franco asked why Spain should be the first nation to renounce the secular privilege of nominating bishops. The conversation between him and the nuncio was difficult and argumentative; it lasted a half an hour and the General stayed on the defensive, stating that if the State had received this privilege from the Church, it had given much more to the Church; he deplored the transmissions from Vatican Radio which showed a hostile attitude towards Spain and the fact that many priests were advocates of disorder.
On June 12, 1968, Franco responded to Paul VI telling him that his letter merited welcome and accurate reflection and that the mention of the appeal of Vatican II echoed immediately in his heart as a faithful son of the Church, without however forgetting the legal and political imperatives of his duty and responsibility as governor. Franco recalled that the ancient right of presentation had been modified in 1941, becoming a true system of negotiation, then incorporated into the Concordat of 1953, which established reciprocal rights and responsibilities and that such a system had been shown to be compatible with the freedom of the Church. On the other hand, since such a procedure was a fundamental part of the solemn pact between the Holy See and the Spanish State, any modification would require the approval of the government and the intervention of the Cortes.
On December 29, 1972, Franco again wrote Paul VI a long letter confiding some serious concerns about the spiritual situation of the Spanish people and the relations between the Church and the State and asked him if the hierarchy of the Church was using sufficient means to oppose certain ecclesial organizations that were being used as instruments of political action.
This letter was personally delivered to the Pope by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Gregorio Lopez Bravo on January 12, 1973, together with numerous other documents. The Pontiff’s reply, however, only arrived six months later, on July 31, 1973.
In his response, Paul VI said that in 1972, on the occasion of the ad limina visit, he had received many Spanish bishops and had examined their accounts of the state of their respective dioceses, listening to them and asking them questions. “We were able to ascertain,” he said, “the generous effort which the Spanish Episcopate is making towards renewal, in order to provide an adequate response to the pastoral problems that have arisen due to profound changes in society, according to the characteristics of the country.”
Paul VI desired that, in harmony with the principles of the Council, the Church could cooperate with the State for the good of the Spanish people and gave assurance that the Holy See would not interfere in the sovereignty and autonomy of the State. But the most urgent concern at that moment for the Pope was that of some dioceses which were still vacant. This situation was definitively resolved only in July 1976, when King Juan Carlos I definitively renounced the privilege of intervening in the nomination of bishops.
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