Page 3, 17th October 1952

17th October 1952
Page 3
Page 3, 17th October 1952 — INSIDE A SPANISH JAIL

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Organisations: Congress
Locations: London, Barcelona, Leeds


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By Mgr. JOHN HEENAN, Bishop of Leeds

IHAD imagined before visiting Spain that Spanish prisons are among the worst in the world. Before leaving London I secured from the Spanish Ambassador a letter of introduction to the Govenor of Barcelona requesting facilities for visiting the famous (or, as I had gathered from the British Press, notorious) Barcelona Gaol. Soon after my arrival in Barcelona I made

arrangements to inspect the prison.

It is well known that any institution can be made ready to present a visitor with a favourable impression. It is obvious, for example, that a stranger going to a prison, school or factory can be so piloted in his tour that black spots and undesirable inmates are avoided. "They only showed you what they wanted you to see" is a criticism often valid made against the favourable report of returned tourists everywhere. I shall not complain, therefore, if critics discount my description of Barcelona Prison.

But it happens that I am rather well placed to inspect a prison. My work has taken me into prisons of all types in the British Isles and I have had the advantage of seeing prisons in the U.S.A. and even in Soviet Russia. I think I knew what to look for.

I made sure that my tour of Barcelona Prison was thorough. Before leaving the office of the Director of the prison I told him what I wanted to see. Somewhat to his astonishment I asked to be taken almost immediately to the punishment cells. I had brought my own interpreter. This is important. It has been my experience that an interpreter does not always phrase questions as awkwardly as the questioner intends.

It would be burdensome to give in detail an account of all the hours I spent in the prison. I shall content myself with describing ceitain characteristics of Spanish prison life.

In the centre of the prison-a .chapel MY experience was quite astonishishing. Barcelona Prison is quite unlike anything I had been led to expect.

Its general lines are reminiscent of Sing Sing-the New York State Penitentiary. Every cell is decently lighted and has running water and a toilet. With the exception of what are called "open" prisons, there is not. so far as I know, a single prison in this country possessing either.

The general conduct of the prison is much the same as in our own. But, on the whole. the discipline is less rigorous. There is no rule of silence and prisoners spend much less time locked up in cells. The main difference, apart from the better sanitation and brighter atmosphere, is the almost religious character of the institution, On the ground floor, in view of all the galleries, is the prison chapel. Holy Mass is celebrated there every morning. When they are not at work prisoners are allowed to visit the Blessed Sacrament.

This, of course, is possible only because all the prisoners and officials are Catholics. The Protestant population of Spain exists mainly in the imagination of English-speaking journalists who tirelessly conduct a campaign for religious toleration in Spain. At the time of my visit there were in fact only two non-Catholics among the prison population. They were both Germans who had entered Spain without a passport.

Anyone over sixty is a 'sick person'

PERHAPS the most striking way of describing the Christian approach to the treatment of prisoners is to explain that one of the prison officers is a priest belonging to a religious congregation devoted to the care of prisoners. Within the prison itself there is a convent of nuns whose members have likewise devoted their lives to this work of mercy. The nuns supervise the cooking and nurse the sick. By the sick I do not mean only the kind of patient we find in prison infirmaries elsewhere. By Spanish law every prisoner at the age of 60 is treated as a sick person. He is removed from the prison proper and brought into the hospital. Here he lives in much the same way as he would in a hospital for chronic invalids. 1.ew of the patients arc bed-ridden. They spend most of their time in recreation rooms or walking in the grounds. The really ill-as in all prison hospitals I have visited there were a number of patients suffering from tuberculosis of the lungs-are in side wards containing anything up to four beds. The presence of the priest and nuns has a marked effect upon the whole morale of the hospital.

No one refuses the Last Sacraments

IN Spanish prisons-as in our own -the Governor holds court each morning to hear complaints and to judge misdemeanours. Sitting with him are the chaplain and reverend mother. This seems a better guaran

tee than any written regulations that prisoners will receive humanitarian treatment.

I talked at some length to both the priest and the nun. Whatever might have been hidden from me, they, who spend their lives in the prison, could not fail to know. They were able to establish to my complete satisfaction that the rehabilitation of the prisoners is the genuine concern of the whole prison administration. The priest told me that in all his years he had never had a single example of a prisoner refusing the Last Sacraments: This is one way of saying that the prisoners are not embittered. For, as every priest knows -and especially every prison chaplain knows-embittered men will never accept spiritual ministrations.

Criticism is free-but protection is limited

BECAUSE of the favourable cornments I have made on Barcelona Prison it must not be thought that I regard the judicial system in Spain as superior to our own. The Habeas Corpus Act makes our penal legislation the envy of the world. When its provisions were over-ridden during the war the public showed by its uneasiness how sensitive we remain to the rights of suspected criminals.

In Spain, as in many countries abroad, the alleged criminal--and in particular the suspected political offender-has no such protection as the British citizen enjoys. It is clear that political freedom. as we understand it, is not accorded to the Spaniard. But he does not walk in fear like political suspects in other total)

Anyone familiar with the Italy of Mussolini or Hitler's Third Reich knows that criticism of the Leader would scarcely be heard even in private conversation. In Soviet Russia criticism is even less likely to be voiced. The penalty would be imprisonment, with or without trial, and, in the end, liquidation. The regime in Spain has not induced any such fearsome silence. It would be naive to believe that a political opponent of Franco is allowed to talk or write against the Government. Nor is it credible, as many Spaniards would have us believe. that there are no political prisoners in Spain. What. however. is true beyond any doubt is that the ordinary Spanish citizen is quite uninhibited in his conversation even with strangers. I heard fierce arguments about the character and policy of the Caudillo. This is an experience which I have not had in any other dictator country.

Franco, the Congress and Church-State relations

LET me give a simple example. Many Spaniards in Barcelona were angrily vociferous because of what they regarded as an affront offered by General Franco to the Papal Legate at the Eucharistic Congress. Not once but several times I heard Spaniards deplore the fact


General Franco's arrival in Barcelona without the Papal Legate to the International Eucharistic Congress caused a good deal of criticism. Bishop Heenan alludes to this incident in his article and has some frank things to report on relations between Church and State in Spain today.

that the General was not present to greet Cardinal Tedeschini on his arrival.

Whether or not any offence was intended I am not sufficiently expert in matters of protocol to judge. But many apparently well informed Spaniards told me that it was by a calculated gesture that Franco made his own solemn entry into the city after the Congress had started instead of being present at the city gates to welcome the representatives of the Sovereign Pontiff. Relations between Church and State in Spain are not, it would seem, as cordial as is popularly believed. Franco, I am told, wants the Church to accord him the same privileges and position as were held in She days of the monarchy by His Most Catholic Majesty. But to the Church, which thinks in centuries rather than years, the General is a passing figure. His Government is the ascendant political party which tomorrow may be overthrown. With what truth I cannot tell, the Spanish Catholic holds that relations between Church and State in Franco Spain arc and must always be tenta--1 v

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