► Benedictine stood twice in elections as candidate for far-right ‘Falange’ party
► Valley of Fallen prior withholds consent, superiors insist he’ll obey court order
A 47-year-old Catholic priest of the Benedictine religious order who was formerly a political candidate on two occasions for Spain’s ultra-right Falange party says he refuses to grant access to the Basilica at the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum complex outside Madrid for the imminent exhumation and removal of the remains of former dictator Francisco Franco, despite a Supreme Court ruling authorizing the Spanish government to proceed with the removal.
Santiago Cantera Montenegro, who serves as acting abbot of the Benedictine priory charged with administering the Basilica at the Valley of the Fallen, sent a letter to Spanish Vice-President Carmen Calvo on Wednesday in which he said that despite the Supreme Court ruling he would “not authorize access to the Basilica for the purpose of accessing a sacred burial site”. At the same time, Cantera said his refusal should not be considered as contempt of the Supreme Court order, but rather adherence to international norms governing the rights of families to determine the final resting place of family members.
Both the Archdiocese of Madrid and the Secretary of State’s office at the Vatican have said the Catholic church would honor the decision of Spanish courts with regard to the exhumation of Franco’s remains. But, within the hierarchical structure of the Catholic church, members of religious orders such as the Benedictines are not bound by decisions of diocesan authorities and respond only to their superiors and, ultimately, orders issued by the Pope. Cantera’s immediate superior is the Benedictine Abbot of the Solesmes monastery in France, who has said that the Spanish Benedictine will “not disobey the law” regarding the exhumation.
Following Franco’s death in 1975, the Spanish dictator was buried with full honors in a crypt in front of the altar at the Benedictine-administered Basilica. In September 2018, Spain’s Congress passed a resolution calling for removal of Franco’s remains from the Basilica by a vote voted 174-2, with 164 abstentions by members of the conservative Partido Popular and centre-right Ciudadanos parties. In February, the government of President Pedro Sánchez announced it would proceed with the removal of Franco’s remains, a decision that was immediately challenged in the courts by Franco’s heirs.
After graduating from the private Catholic Universidad CEU Cardenal Herrera, Cantera stood unsuccessfully for election on two occasions as a candidate for the now-defunct Falange Española Independiente (FEI, or Independent Spanish Falange), the first time in Spain’s 1994 general election and then in the European parliamentary elections in 1994. The ultra-right FEI emerged after Franco’s death from the remnants of the original Falange Española party, which supported the 1936 Franco-led military against Spain’s democratically elected Republican government and was founded by José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who is also buried in the Basilica.
In 2002, at the age of 30, Cantera entered the Benedictine order and was assigned by superiors to the priory at the Valley of the Fallen. In 2014, he assumed the role of administrative prior of the Benedictine community after he apparently failed to secure the necessary votes from his fellow Benedictine monks to be named as full abbot of the priory.
On Wednesday, Spain’s Supreme Court reiterated in a clarification of its ruling that neither the permission of Franco’s heirs nor the Benedictine priory’s consent is needed for the Sánchez government to proceed with the removal of Franco’s remains. Amid reports that the government may use a Guardia Civil helicopter to transport Franco’s remains to a new location at a government-owned cemetery north of Madrid, on Wednesday Sánchez said in a televised interview Wednesday that he expects the operation to take place “within days”.
► Click to read more about former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco …
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