The Vatican Propaganda Machine: The Spanish “Civil War” Lesson

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH | 4 October 2012
Church and State

‘Guernica’ was painted by the Cubist Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso in 1937. The title ‘Guernica’ refers to the city that was bombed by Nazi planes during the Spanish Civil War. The painting depicts the horrors of war and as a result, has come to be an anti-war symbol and a reminder of the tragedies of war. (Credit: Laura Estefania Lopez / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0)

This excerpt has been adapted from Chapter 14 of our Chairman Dr. Stephen D. Mumford’s seminal book, The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy (1996). The book is available at Kindle here and to read for free here.

This pressure [of the Catholic Church on American journalism] is one of the most important forces in American life, and the only one about which secrecy is generally maintained, no newspaper being brave enough to discuss it, although all fear it and believe that the problem should be dragged into the open and made publicly known.

George Seldes
1890 – 1995
Journalist and Dean of
Investigative Reporters

From George Seldes, the “dean and granddaddy of investigative reporters,” when it comes to issues important to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, “… there is no free press in America.” Seldes’s extensive study of the Spanish Civil War and the related control of the American press by the Catholic hierarchy is exceedingly instructive for all who are concerned about this freedom.

In 1931, Spain became the Republic of Spain, a liberal democracy that separated church and state, ended State monetary support for the church and adopted the principles of Freedom of Conscience, Freedom of Religion, and Freedom of the Press. The Vatican feared for the Church’s very survival in Spain. There had been four insurrections since 1835, and it was the Spanish people, the poor workers and poor peasants, who burned the churches because they blamed the hierarchy for having persistently backed the upper class. The latest uprising against the Catholic Church took place throughout the country in July, 1936. One historian described it as “the work of masses of common people, a spontaneous uprising.” The Vatican feared that the liberal democracy with its freedoms would spell the end of the Church in Spain.

The Spanish War of 1936-39 is often called a civil war. But this was a lie from the beginning. It was not a civil war but an invasion by Hitler, Mussolini and Salazar fascists or what George Seldes refers to as the Fascist Internationale in league with the Vatican. Mussolini landed 200,000 infantrymen from his Black Arrow division in Franco-held seaports and Hitler sent Goering’s Condor Legion to bomb civilians, involving an estimated 50,000 German aviators. All this had been envisioned in Rome in 1934. Seldes writes, “Mussolini and two representatives of the plan … met there and even promised help in overthrowing the Republic and establishing a fascist type of government. They also met with Hitler that same year—and the confessions of the Nazis at the Nuremberg Trials confirm the plot.” There was to be an uprising of treasonous Republic officers led by Franco, the invasion by the Italian and German forces and the promulgation of the lie that this was an uprising against a communist take-over of the Republic and a “Christian crusade against atheistic communism.” The creation of this great lie would be primarily the responsibility of the Vatican.

Cardinal Pacelli, then papal secretary, began this campaign of falsification in America when he came to Hyde Park [New York] to enlist the aid of President Franklin Roosevelt in this undertaking. Pacelli, who three years later was to become Pope Pius XII, was successful. Roman Catholic layman James Farley, a boss of the Democratic party, Cardinal Spellman, and Joseph P. Kennedy, FDR’s ambassador to London, promoted Pacelli’s position. Each warned Roosevelt he would lose the Catholic vote unless he embargoed arms to Spain and joined Chamberlain’s so-called Neutrality Pact.

The making of the “Christian crusade against communism” myth began immediately following Pacelli’s visit to America. “The New York Times, October 1, 1936, was informed from Rome that Pacelli had ‘left for the United States of America to enlist the support of President Roosevelt and the U.S. Government for the anti-communist campaign the Pope has been waging for some time. The Holy See regards the spread of communist doctrine as the gravest and most threatening danger hanging over the world.’ When the cardinal arrived in New York The New York Times headline read: ‘Pacelli Reported Seeking Aid in U.S. in Anti-Red Drive …'” A myth was born.

In Spain the day before, Seldes later discovered, “The [Spanish hierarchy’s] pastoral letter ‘Los dos Cindados’ of September 13, 1936 had converted a treasonable officer’s rebellion into the ‘Crusade Against Godless Communism.'”

Immediately following this meeting, Hitler’s newspapers re­ported FDR had made important concessions to the Cardinal and that Pacelli ‘is declared to have delivered the Catholic vote in the United States to Roosevelt.’ Although this appeared at first to be a typical Nazi piece of propaganda, it seems to have been substanti­ated by important visits to Hyde Park in 1936 by Farley and Cardi­nal Spellman. In every Catholic country in Europe, Cardinals, priests and diocesan publications had openly declared themselves to be against Franco, but not one in America did so [emphasis added].

The Neutrality Act was instrumental in the demise of Republican Spain. President Roosevelt prevented guns, food and medicine from being shipped to the Republic. Everyone understood this. “Roosevelt was re-elected in 1936, and again in 1940. The Non-Intervention Pact, originated by pro-fascists in the British Foreign Office, remained in effect; the world press either falsified the news of the arrival of German and Italian troops, or confused enough people to prevent effective protest.”

“When in 1938, a last effort was made to lift the embargo on arms, The Nation said: ‘The Catholics got busy and reached the President, who was fishing in southern waters. Big Church dignitaries came to Washington and talked cold politics …’ The Nation report, written by Max Lerner, columnist for The New York Post, continues: ‘only a band of heroes could have withstood the combined effort of Catholic votes, State Department leaning and authority, administrative pressure, and mental sluggishness, and the Senate Committee [considering this legislation] was not heroic … the biggest factor in the mind of the President was the Catholic vote…. It is a cold political fact that Mr. Roosevelt, who has braved concentrated wealth, has not braved the risk of losing the Catholic vote.’ The repeal move in Congress failed, and the last hope for the Spanish Republic disappeared.” This blockade was responsible for the Republic’s defeat.

It was not only President Roosevelt who felt the intense Catholic pressure. When Spain’s Congress opened in 1938, “a resolution was introduced in the American Congress to send greetings. Only 60 members had the courage to sign; 440 were either on the fascist side or too cowardly to declare their convictions. The 60 who signed were attacked in the Roman pulpit, the Roman Catholic press, and by the Cardinals as ‘anti-American’ and as ‘Reds’. Cardinal Spellman and his colleagues, whose offices were referred to among newspapermen (but never by newspapers) as ‘the power house’, sent orders to the lobbyists to get retractions from the 60 under threat of defeat in the next elections. Many recanted.” A few half-recanted, saying their greetings did not mean endorsement. Among them: Harry Byrd of Virginia and Claude Pepper of Florida. Three Senators affirmed their endorsement of the Spanish Republic. Among them: Senator Hubert Humphrey.

Seldes goes on, “The Vatican lobby continued its work in Washington for many years after the Republic’s demise, seeking quick recognition of the fascist regime, loans, admission to the United Nations.”

Spanish Bishops Admit Decades of Deception

The accuracy of this report on the role of the Vatican in the fascist takeover of Spain is irrefutable. Why? Because Spain’s Bishops themselves openly admitted the role of the Church. Seldes writes,

The myth of a Christian crusade against Communism in Spain persisted for decades, despite honest revisionist historians. It was not until 1971 that the myth was finally destroyed by none other than the Roman Catholic hierarchy of Spain. This important correction of history was slurred in the world press and is probably not known to more than one person in a million today [emphasis added].

In Madrid, September 15, 1971, Primate Cardinal Enrique Taracon presided at a Congress of the entire Roman Catholic Hierarchy, with 94 bishops and 151 priests present…. Although a two-thirds’ vote was necessary to pass resolutions, and this one did not pass, it is significant that it received a large majority of the vote…. The majority confessed it had sinned in supporting the wrong side (the fascist side) in Spain and asked to be forgiven. ‘We humbly recognize,’ said the resolution, ‘and ask pardon for it, that we failed at the proper time to be ministers of reconciliation in the midst of our people divided by a war between brothers.’

“In 1971—and again in 1972, 1983 and succeeding years—a majority of Spain’s 94 bishops and 151 priests attending voted 60% or more for the Church’s apology but never officially passed it.” By taking this action, Cardinal Taracon probably prevented widespread killing of priests and nuns upon Franco’s death in 1975.

The news of these votes was almost completely suppressed in the world press. Only three minor reports on this story appeared in the United States.

FDR admitted his error in 1939—but it could not be published in his lifetime. He said to his Ambassador to Madrid, Claude Bowers, who had told the truth about the great world campaign of falsehood against Spain and had urged American help: ‘We have made a mistake, you have been right all along ….’ He wrote this confession by FDR in 1954. Secretary of State Sumner Welles in his book Time for Decision, 1944, wrote: ‘of all our blind isolationist policies the most disastrous was our attitude on the Spanish Civil War.’ President Harry Truman wrote in his Memoirs: ‘I believe it was a mistake for me to support the Neutrality Action in the first place.’

American Hierarchy and the Vatican Maintain Deception

On the other hand, “The spokesman for the American Catholic Hierarchy, who so powerfully influenced American foreign policy—Farley, Kennedy, Cardinals Hayes, Spellman and Dougherty” and the archbishops and priests and Catholic laymen who so intensely lobbied in Congress, did not join their Spanish brothers and never admitted error. Their vital roles and that of the Vatican are unquestionable in the crushing of this liberal democracy.

The Spanish War of 1936-1939 was unspeakably brutal. All told, an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 of Spain’s population of 25,000,000 were killed. By 1939, an estimated 100,000 prisoners of war had been murdered by the fascists. “… the official organ of the Roman Church in France, La Croix, was the first to report that Franco killed every Loyalist Republican prisoner—a tremendously important news story. That, incidentally, was also suppressed in almost the entire U.S. press.”

These Spaniards were murdered for only one reason—they believed in liberal democracy, just as we Americans do here in this country.

Seldes documents the leading role of the Vatican in the destruction of the Spanish Republic. The murder of 100,000 liberal democrat prisoners by Franco was undoubtedly made easier by Pope Pius XI. Referring to the uprising against the Roman Church throughout Spain in July, 1936, Pius XI attacked the “ruinization, destruction, villainies, barbarities by the savage forces whom it is impossible to dignify with the words human beings.” Dehumanization always makes mass murder seem less reprehensible.

“Pius XII declared publicly year after year his support for Franco. He sent Franco the Supreme Equestrian Order of the Militia of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Immediately after the war ended in 1939, Pius XII not only sent his congratulations to the fascist victor, but stated his ‘Christian heroism’ had ‘pleased God’. On July 11, 1939 Pius XII reviewed 3,000 Spanish Legionaries in Rome and called them the defenders of the faith and the culture of their country.”

“Pius XII [also] blessed the Italian fascist army and air force on its return from Spain … in 1939.”

“All the American Cardinals endorsed the Franco-fascist cause except Cardinal Mundelein of Chicago…. Franco had awarded his decorations, usually the ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus’, to all the American Cardinals except Mundelein…. Incidentally, two well known [Catholic] laymen, Ambassador to Spain Ogden H. Hammond and Ambassador William Cameron Forbes, are also listed among the recipients of Franco’s bloodstained medals.”

In the publication Historia del Franquismo, which began in 1976 to revise 40 years of Spanish history following Franco’s death,

“Issue No. 1, page 6 states: ‘The rebellion of the generals was first called a Crusade for God, for Spain and for Franco’ by the Church. When Franco won he received the following telegram: ‘We lift our hearts to the Lord sincerely thankful that your excellency has brought a Catholic victory to Spain…. We send your excellency and to all the noble people of Spain our apostolic benediction. [signed] Pope Pius XII'”

“To the Spanish press Pius XII issued the following statement for April 18, 1937: ‘The nation selected by God … the people of Spain came to the defenses of the faith and of Christian civilization…. God in his compassion will lead Spain on the safe road of your traditional and Catholic greatness.'”

“Primate of Spain, Cardinal Goma … called the war ‘a crusade for religion, for country, and for civilization’ in a pastoral letter.”

Seldes offers a mountain of evidence to support his conclusions that “it was the Roman Catholic Church which was fascism’s main supporter,” and “It was the hierarchy which originated and propagandized the ‘holy crusade against Godless Communism’. The hierarchy was as responsible as guns and planes in destroying the Republic. It monopolized schools. It propagated Fascism for 39 years.”

Why would the Vatican propagate Fascism? “The first fascist newspaper, Arriba España, was published August 1, 1936. One of its directors was a priest representing the Church … on September 16 Arriba España said editorially that ‘Catholicism will find Fascism its best collaborator’.”

And what were the Church’s rewards? “Franco repaid the Roman Catholic Church by abolishing divorce, making religious marriages obligatory and restoring taxes for the benefit of the Church—all previously banned by the Republic.”

Most important, Franco turned the schools over to the Catholic Church. Seldes offers “… two short abstracts from nationally used catechisms taught to two generations of children, in the hope of producing a brain-washed people which would never rebel.”

In the second year of the war the Archbishop of Grenada gave his imprimatur to the catechism of the Jesuit priest Angel Maria de Arcos. This catechism was so unbelievable, so obscurantist, incredible, outrageous, that when John Langdon-Davies wrote about it in a London liberal magazine he was attacked by numerous Catholic editors, accused of making the whole thing up. He sued for libel, established the veracity of the catechism, and won his case. Here is what the children in many eastern cities, including Granada, were taught:

Q. Is every Liberal government hostile to the Church?

A. Evidently, since whoever is not with Christ is against Him.

Q. Then there is no grade of Liberalism that can be good?

A. None: because Liberalism is mortal sin and anti-Christian.

Q. What of Communism, Socialism, Modern Democracy, An­archism, and the like sects?

A. They are contrary to Catholic faith, to justice, and to virtue, and as such condemned by the Church.

(In reply to another question:)

A. The Liberal system is the weapon with which the accursed Jewish race makes war on our Lord Jesus Christ, and his Church, and on the Christian people.

In 1944 the new classic catechism, known as the Nuevo Repaldi, and used nationally, was published and introduced into every secondary school in Spain. It consists of 112 pages, and was fully described by the U.S. press attaché‚ in Madrid during the Spanish War, Emmet John Hughes, in his Report from Spain. Of the ten pages which concern themselves with the essential doctrines of Catholic faith and morals, here are a few samples:

Q. What does freedom of the press mean?

A. The right to print and publish without previous censorship all kinds of opinions, however absurd and corrupting they may be.

Q. Must the government suppress this freedom by means of censorship?

A. Obviously, yes.

Q. Why?

A. Because it must prevent the deception, calumny and corrup­tion of its subjects, which harm the general good.

Q. Does one sin gravely who subscribes to a liberal newspaper?

A. Yes … Because he contributes his money to evil, places his faith in jeopardy, and gives a bad example.

Q. What rules can be given to know liberal papers?

A. The following:
1. If they call themselves liberal.
2. If they defend freedom of conscience, freedom of worship, freedom of the press, or any of the other liberal errors.
3. If they attack the Roman Pontiff, the clergy, or the religious orders.
4. If they belong to liberal parties.
5. If they comment on news or judge personalities with a liberal criterion.
6. If they unreservedly praise the good moral and intellectual qualities of liberal personalities and parties.
7. If, in reporting events concerned with the battle waged by Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Church against their enemies today, they remain neutral.

Q. What is the rule to avoid error in these cases?

A. Do not read any newspaper without the previous consult­ation and approval of your confessor.

These two catechisms make it clear just how strongly the Catholic Church feels about freedom of the press, as well as with what disdain and contempt it views this vital democratic principle.

Others Recognize Press Manipulation

Of course, Seldes was by no means alone in his assessment of the Catholic leadership’s corruption of the press (particularly The New York Times). The Churchman published numerous articles on this topic, as did the New Republic. In their June 28, 1939, issue, “Who Lied About Spain?”, The New York Times and its reporter, William P. Carney, headed the list. Numerous books were also devoted to this topic (see Herbert L. Matthews, A World in Revolution, and Guy Talese, History of the Times). Few Americans today are aware of this page of American history, or of this corruption of the principle of freedom of the press by the Catholic hierarchy.

It should also be made clear that not all Catholic reporters were part of the Vatican propaganda machine. Writes Seldes, “In all justice, it must be stated that a score of noted Catholic war correspondents and noted Catholic newspapers—in Europe—reported the war honestly, detailing all the atrocities committed by the Fascist-Nazi forces …” (The most famous reporter on the Loyalist (Republican) side was a Catholic named Ernest Hemingway. Other notables were Fernsworth of The Times and Taylor of the Chicago Tribune, both Catholics.)

Seldes was quite critical of the world press generally. He writes, “The world press it might be said—although no general statement is wholly true—failed its readers during the Spanish war. The democratic Republic was labeled ‘Red’ and ‘Communist’ at a time when there were fewer ‘Reds’ and Communists in Spain than there are today.”

Although Seldes singled out the New York Times for particular scrutiny, his studies showed that all 1,750 American newspapers with few exceptions were victimized by the Catholic leadership and that “The Catholic Church propaganda campaign [was] conducted largely by the Knights of Columbus.” As late as 1978, he concluded that “the New York Times is still in fear of reprisals from the Roman Church.”

No doubt the influence of the Knights of Columbus with its membership of 1.5 million means that the American press is not free to report on matters that threaten the security-survival of the Papacy. But as if this were not sufficient, in recent years a new organization has been created to serve as the point of attack on the American freedom of the press—the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

Dr. Stephen Mumford is the founder and President of the North Carolina-based Center for Research on Population and Security. He has his doctorate in Public Health. His principal research interest has been the relationship between world population growth and national and global security. He has been called to provide expert testimony before the U.S. Congress on the implications of world population growth.

Dr. Mumford has decades of international experience in fertility research where he is widely published, and has addressed conferences worldwide on new contraceptive technologies and the stresses to the security of families, societies and nations that are created by continued uncontrolled population growth. Using church policy documents and writings of the Vatican elite, he has introduced research showing the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church as the principal power behind efforts to block the availability of contraceptive services worldwide.

In addition to his books on biomedical and social aspects of family planning, as well as scientific articles in more than a score of journals, Dr. Mumford’s major works include American Democracy and the Vatican: Population Growth and National Security (Amherst, New York: Humanist Press, 1984), The Pope and the New Apocalypse: The Holy War Against Family Planning (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security, 1986), and The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security, 1996).

The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH
Paperback Publisher: Center for Research on Population and Security (October 1996)
Kindle Publisher: Church and State Press (February 6, 2015)
Kindle Store

During the formative years of the World Health Organization (WHO), broad consensus existed among United Nations member countries that overpopulation is a grave public health threat and would be a major cause of preventable death not too far in the future. One of the founding fathers of the WHO, the late Milton P. Siegel, speaks to Dr. Mumford in 1992. He explains how the Vatican successfully stymied the incorporation of family planning and birth control into official WHO policy. This video is available for public viewing for the first time. Read the full transcript of the interview here.

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