The right-wing Spanish Popular Party (PP) was forced to reiterate its condemnation of the Franco regime after the party leader was criticized for inadvertently attending a mass at which prayers were said for the soul of the dictator on the 46th anniversary of his death.
Pablo Casado, who has led the PP since July 2018, was seen attending mass in a church next to Granada Cathedral on Saturday evening. According to the PP, Casado – in Andalusia for a party conference – took his family to mass there because it was near his hotel and because he believed that professional commitments would prevent him from going to church the next day.
“At no time was [Casado] aware that prayers would be said for the dictator, ”the PP said in a statement Monday. “In fact, there was no express mention of Franco in the homily.”
The party said its leader had learned that prayers had been offered for the dictator using Franco’s first name, Francisco, the day after he left for mass. “He never knew they were going to pray for Franco,” the statement read, adding: “The People’s Party has always condemned Franco’s dictatorship.
The statement came after Casado’s political opponents demanded to know exactly what had happened.
A spokesperson for the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), which heads the Spanish coalition government, called Casado’s presence at mass a “totally irresponsible insult” and called on the PP leader to explain himself.
Pablo Echenique, spokesperson for Unidas Podemos, the PSOE’s junior coalition partners, also said an explanation needed to be provided.
“Last Saturday, there were 10 masses for Franco and there are around 23,000 churches”, Echenique said in a tweet. “The probability of stumbling upon one of them is 0.05% – yet, according to sources from his own PP, Pablo Casado did.”
Íñigo Errejón, leader of the Más País party, said that while Casado may have attended mass without knowing it, he still had to address the issue. “If this had happened in another country – if Angela Merkel was traveling through Germany, ended up in Munich and walked into a church where people paid homage to Adolf Hitler – then I’m sure she would come out the next day and say, ‘I was wrong. I didn’t want to be there and I’m sorry I offended the Democrats in my country.
But not everyone was scandalized. The Francisco Franco National Foundation – which exists to preserve and promote the dictator’s legacy – said that although it had not “expressly” invited Casado to mass, it was glad he had been there.
“We thank Mr. Casado and his family, as well as the rest of those who attended Mass, for the prayer for the soul of an exemplary Christian such as Francisco Franco Bahamonde.”
The incident comes as the PP continues to dominate the polls despite internal dissent and tensions over the party’s ideological leadership, and days after the government tabled amendments to the bill that would in effect allow prosecutors to investigate crimes committed under the 1939-1975 regime. Franco on the grounds that crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and torture are not statute-barred under international humanitarian law.