Rev. Dr. Ryan on the Church and the Spanish Civil War

From the Irish Press, Tuesday, 20th October, 1936:

Noted Catholic Scholar on “Spain”




Basques and Moors

“If the people of Spain hadn’t risen against such atrocities they would not have been the valiant sons of Spain that they are but despicable cowards,” declared Very Rev. Dr. A. H. Ryan, Professor of Scholastic Philosophy, Queen’s University, Belfast, in an address on “Spain” in St. Mary’s Hall, Belfast, last night.

Over 200 people attended, among them the Bishop of Down and Connor, Most Rev. Dr. Mageean. Mr. Raymond Burke presided. Dr. Ryan said that the deplorable events in Spain since the outbreak of the civil war had produced most extraordinary reactions in many places and especially in Ireland.

The fact that the Catholic Church had suffered had produced the usual type of exultation in those bigoted circles that could not see that the Catholic Church was fighting the battle, not alone of Catholicism, but of every religion.

It had produced joy also in those antediluvian circles which interpreted Catholicity in terms of the Spanish Inquisition and walled-in nuns. Amongst Liberals it was interpreted as a war of Democracy against Fascism, while strangest of all was the attitude of Labour circles.

Whilst the English Trade Union Congress wisely recognised that Communism was its most deadly enemy at home, it did not regard it as inconsistent to send fraternal greetings to the frankly Communist regime in Spain under Largo Caballero.

Even amongst Catholics there were sometimes misgivings. They were frequently asked how it was that a nation like Spain, overwhelmingly Catholic, could produce such a number of people who could turn on the Church with such ferocity.


They were asked did it not suggest that there was something wrong with the Church in Spain. Others, better informed, were disquieted when they saw the apparent alliance between Fascism and the Catholic Church in European countries, including Spain, and asked was there any truth in the charge that the Catholic Church was going hand in hand with Fascism against the liberties of the people.

The natural answer, but not the most effective in the long run, was to point to the series of atrocities that had been committed – Church burnings, the desecrations of the dead, the sacrileges, and say: “What is to be done with the perpetrators of these deeds except to exterminate them?”

They were too close to the actual events to examine these things properly, and it was only by a survey of the recent history of Spain that they could put the civil war in its proper perspective.

After giving a brief survey of recent political events in Spain, Dr. Ryan said that though the Left Wing forces controlled the Cortes they had not the largest party.

Democrats everywhere thought that the Premiership would have been given to the leader of the largest party, Senor Gil Robles, of the Catholic Centre Party, with a democratic policy, but he was ousted by the extremists.

In the elections in February last, owing to divisions among the parties on the Right, the “Popular Front” received a majority of seats, but not of votes. For the 263 seats won by the Left coalition, 4,600,000 votes were cast while with 5,000,000 votes the Centre and Right parties only secured 210 seats. The extreme Left Wing only secured 23 per cent of the votes, so no mandate was given by the people of Spain for the subsequent policy.

It was revealed in an interview with the Prime Minister of Spain that a priest was forced to say Mass on the edge of a trench and at the words “Ite Missa Est,” he was shot down and his body fell into the pit.

Proceeding, Dr. Ryan said that the insurgents in Spain were not engaged in a wanton revolt against Democratic government.

It was not a revolt of Conservatism against Liberalism because many leaders who spent their lives in exile under the Monarchy were fighting with the insurgents. It was not a revolt of the Monarchy against Democratic government, because many of the leaders were Republicans.

It was a revolt of the decent liberty-loving people of Spain who dared to suggest that priests and nuns had the same right of life as dogs against the barbarism imported from Russia.

It was regrettable that Moorish troops had to be called in to fight Communism but it must be remembered that the Moors were part of the regular army and compared to Communist terrorists, Moors were gentlemen.

The Moors fought against barricades, not monasteries.

They fought against soldiers, not nuns.

How was it, they were asked, that such ferocity could be stirred up in an overwhelming Catholic country?

The answer to that was that those who talked of Spain being a Catholic country in anything like the sense of the Irish Free State were completely ignorant of Spanish history.

From the days of Napoleon the church has been harassed under the influence of Continental Liberalism, the religious orders had been expelled many times from the eighteenth century till recent times. The attacks on the Church were no new things, any more than they were in Italy, Germany or Ireland.

Replying to questions, Dr. Ryan said that if the Insurgents won General Franco had stated that a system of Government something similar to that of Portugal, semi-Fascist, and, in spite of much criticism, an extremely suitable system, would be set up in Spain.

Asked if there were Catholics fighting for the Government forces in Spain, Dr. Ryan said there were in the provinces of Catalonia, where the Communists, always eager to fish in troubled waters, had under the guise of supporting Catalan aspirations for independence, secured support, as they had used the Basques, but he added “if General Franco at the moment had the courage or foresight to promise the people of Catalonia some measure of independence, their support of the Communists would cease in the twinkling of an eye.”


Posted on October 2, 2010, in Communism, International Ethics, Irish Church-State Relations, Irish History, Media Archives, Spain. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. A fascinating article, Shane. Thanks for digging it up.

    It really gives an insight into the minds of leading Irish Catholic thinkers in the 1930s and their support for fascism, “an extremely suitable system”. I suspect that the Very Rev. Dr Ryan, like the Spanish hierarchy even today, would find the Basque Priests murdered by the fascists rather embarrassing.

  1. Pingback: Spanish Civil War: Letter of the Bishop of Madrid to Fr Andrew Macardle, S.J. « Lux Occulta

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: