By Estefanía Aguirre
The prior of the Valley of the Fallen stated that despite an amendment to a law recently proposed by the Spanish government that aims at ‘temporarily closing’ the Basilica if homage is paid to Franco, the Church cannot deny anyone the celebration of a Mass for the soul of a deceased Catholic.
“A Mass cannot be forbidden. Mass is a religious act, it is never a political act or an exaltation of a deceased or anything merely human, so it is absurd to view it as such,” affirmed Father Santiago Cantera Montenegro in an exclusive interview with shoebat.com on Aug. 12.
“A funeral is not and should not be a tribute to a deceased person. In fact, the Church urges that funeral homilies not become a panegyric of the deceased,” he added. “Unfortunately, there are people who do not understand this and want to turn Mass for a deceased into a human tribute.”
The Benedictine priest made his comments just days after left-wing socialist party PSOE proposed an amendment to reform the Historical Memory Law so that temporary closure of the Basilica of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen could be ordered if homage is paid to Franco.
The proposed amendment of article 16 made on Aug. 7 states that “premises or public establishments where acts of exaltation or commemoration (…) of the dictator Francisco Franco” are carried out, will now include penalties such as a temporary closure for a period of between six months to two years.
Critics say this change is aimed at avoiding the annual Mass offered for the repose of Franco’s soul on the anniversary of his death, Nov. 20.
A few members of the congregation sometimes gather outside the Basilica after the Eucharistic celebration carrying pre-constitutional flags, singing the Spanish Falange anthem ‘Cara al Sol’ (Facing the sun) or doing the Roman salute – all which PSOE considers to be a tribute to Franco.
But the Benedictine monks, the Basilica’s custodians whose monastery lies at the back of the crypt, have never taken part or encouraged those actions carried out by only a handful of Spaniards.
Fr Santiago underscored that “Mass for a deceased is the supreme form of intercession for the soul of that deceased, to ask God for forgiveness of his sins and his eternal salvation.”
“A Christian has a duty to pray for the salvation of all men, friends and enemies alike,” he continued. “Therefore, the Church cannot deny the celebration of a Mass for the soul of a deceased Catholic, but has the duty to do so.”
Canon law experts have stressed that the proposed law by the PSOE is “a sign of ignorance” and “the whole argument of the PSOE can be dismantled with Canon Law in hand.”
The Basilica of the Valley of the Fallen: the world’s largest cross
The Basilica has been officially considered national heritage since it was inaugurated on 1 April 1959, although it has been quietly removed from the official webpage of Spain’s national heritage sites. Pope John XXIII declared the underground crypt a basilica in 1960.
It was built between 1940 and 1958 and is a monument intended to commemorate all those who died on both sides during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) as a national sign of reconciliation.
Nearly 35,000 Nationalists (right wing) and Republicans (left wing) of the buried there have been officially registered, but the identity of around a third remains unknown.
It is inevitably associated with Franco since he ordered its construction and was later buried there, although he had never requested this during his lifetime.
The Basilica’s granite cross, designed by architect Diego Méndez and located on top of the Basilica over the altar, is the world’s largest cross.
It is 150 metres high (492 ft) including the base and 47m (154 ft) wide. There are four sculptures of the four evangelists at the foot of the cross that are 18m high (60 ft): saint Luke with a bull, saint John with an eagle, saint Mark with a lion and saint Matthew with a man.
The cross weighs around 200,000 metric tons, including its base which is now under maintenance, but can be normally accessed by a funicular railway.
Historical Memory Law
The Ley de Memoria Histórica, or Historical Memory Law, was approved in 2007 by PSOE under the command of former president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
The law affirms its purpose is to “recognise and extended the rights of those who suffered persecution or violence during the civil war and dictatorship, and to establish measures in their favour.”
Father Santiago, an obstacle for the Spanish government
Ever since Fr Santiago was elected as prior of the Basilica in 2014, he has come into conflict with the Spanish government who has been engaged in a battle to exhume Franco ever since Zapatero’s presidency from 2004-2011.
Author of 17 books, he graduated in geography and history, and holds a doctorate in medieval history.
The monk wrote a letter to the Minister of Justice on Dec. 26 denying the government access to the Basilica to exhume Franco arguing lack of agreement within the family and that the matter must still be resolved by the court.
In recent years, Spanish mainstream media has demonised Fr Santiago such as El País who labelled him “a monk that is not contemplative at all” and eldiario.es who tried to portray him as a rebel who “refuses to serve sentences while allowing Masses for Franco”.