By Gerard Noel
Like the South Sea bubble the Marconi case and many similar entanglements, Watergate will have worldwide repercussions for decades. As Paul Johnson argues, this, in all the bizarre circumstances, can only be 'welcomed. It provides, apart from anything else, a chilling reminder of what can happen when immense political power is monopolised by a wellmeaning but self-righteous oligarchy.
Normal democratic standards become tilted at perilous angles, and mysterious men work behind a Venetian blind in a twilight world of their own. The result is that a paternalistic elite helieve they know what is best Ion the country; and this also happens to be what is best for them personally.
In general. a situation analagous to this result (though I having nothing in common with its causes) exists in modern Spain. This country. defying iilmost all comparisons with other nations, combines charm, passion, ruggedness and grandeur with an immense amount of basic honesty. These are all qualities that must be freely admired. even though most non-Spanish journalists seem to find that candid admiration for Spain gets stuck in their typewriter keyboards.
As a result. all have suffered. Misunderstanding and misrepresenting of the "dictator" state of Spain have damaged the Cause or truth as Englishspeaking historians will adopt it; and Spaniards have, in consequence, been driven further into their psychological and peninsular shell.
But the basic honesty survives: and one of its most surprising effeets is the disarming admission not only that democracy doesn't exist in Spam, hut also that it is not even desirable — at least not yet. The country. on the contrary, still feels itself to be at war with Communism, both from within and without; and it thus arms itself with all the emergency powers that any country assumes in time of war.
This, naturally. is a point which involves the Church, and the "civil war" therein of which I spoke last week. That many priests, and even some bishops, are openly accused of being Communists is sonic indication of the point that has been reached. The "liberal" British visitor is amazed and baffled by it all; and the fact that Communism and Christian democracy can co-exist in Italy, on the doorstep of the Vatican, makes the Spanish fear seem like a paronoie obsession. •It is an obsession for which "the war" (i.e.. the Spanish Civil
War) is responsible. The basic animosities still smoulder.
But the Spanish Church. since Vatican II, has been placed in a difficult, almost an impossible, position. Primarily spiritual as its role must always he. it surveys a country where help for the victims of economic oppression and social injustice is still a matter of charity. How is this affected by John XXIII's dictum that "justice comes before charity"? The reaction on the part of an important section of the Church is to fight or its concepts of social justice, often in direct opposition to the government. This fight is led by the fearless, but, in certain quarters, detested Archbishop of Madrid and Alcala, Cardinal Enrique y Tarancon. Neutrality in such rnatiers, however, is more or less the official stance of the Church as personified by the Primate, Cardinal GonzalezMartin. In his Archepiscopal Palace in Toledo, he told me that the Church's role mustbe purely pastoral, and that he had no comment to make on social and political matters.
There is much mutual 'recrimination meanwhile — as, indeed, in so many other areas of the Church — that the "right wing" group are content with Church teaching that, being ultra-traditional, is irrelevant to modern needs, deaf to Vatican II. and without impact on a Church-going public now aware, through the media and in other ways, of a totally different
world climate; and that the "left wing" group, in an effort to be relevant and helpful to contemporary society, and comprehensible to the rising generation, arc guilty of distortion and exaggeration, and even modernism and heresy.
It is true that this pattern is discernible the whole world over. But peculiar circumstances make Spain's position unique. And it is helpful to review the complex cause and effects even if the final conclusion cannot he an answer, but only a question.
For to complicate matters further than in most other countries. Church and State have always been intimately linked. They still operate in double harness as a result of the Concordat with the Holy See. Arid cutting across still other barriers — but barriers that are difficult to delineate — there is the powerful organisation, Opus Dei.
Opus Dei is a society of lay people (to which some secular priests also belong) whose aims, as conceived by Mgr. Escriva de Balagucr as long ago as 1928, are purely spiritual. But the purpose of Opus Del is to spread the life Of sanctity among people of all walks of life, especially among those of intellectual pursuits. This brings us back to the paternalistic oligarchy, and the usetutness ot those Spaniards who are disinterested and well-informed enough to he wholly candid in their commen ts.
Such sources reveal not only that Opus Dei has, by indirect means. immense secular power, but that, indeed, it actually runs modern Spain. Its members are in key government, civil service, banking, business, educational and similar positions; Opus Dei runs the college in Alca1si through which all administrative trainees must pass; the movement is exclusively middle class (though "open to all" in the same sense us legal processes and the Ritz Hotel.)
It must not be supposed that saying all this represents yet another "attack" by an uncomprehending foreign press. it is, of course, no such thing. but merely a statement of fact. Nor is it necessarily bad or sinister that Spain should be run Opus Dei; it may he a very salutary thing for the time being, and until the country is strong arid "sale" enough to embrace such full Christian democracy — with all its concomitants in terms of social justice and 55elfare — as has been called for by the Fathers of the Vatican Council.
It is impossible meanwhile t( defend or condemn Opus Dei ir any definite sense: its member are highly reticent about thei, affiliations and involvements indeed Masonic-style secrecy i& one of the essential features of
all its operations. But there is no difficulty in ascertaining the theoretical basis for the movement's activity, and Fr. Manuel Botas, Rector of Madrid's Pontifical Basilica of San Miguel, was informative and reassuring. Ile feels that Opus Dei could become a worldwide movement whereby ordinary individuals, spiritually strengthened, could bring about a revolution that would truly further "God's work" on earth.
Just next door to this Rom anstyle basilica is the Madrid Archbishop's residence. Archbishop Enrique y Tarancon is a bustling, liberal-minded cleric whose concern is real and active (some would say activist) on behalf of a flock torn in different directions by the new currents, both secular and ecclesiastical, to which they are subject. His hope for the future, he told me. could only be expressed in terns or genuine "renewal". • He is not afraid to be critical of the establishment on occasions, as seen last week after the ugly rioting. But most importantly his hope for the religious future can, he told me, only .be expressed in terms of genuine "renewal, by taking ordinary people into one's confidence and talking to them with compassion and comprehension, and in a non-paternalist language that they can understand.
The long-term prospects are practically impossible to assess,
though gradual liberalisation IS certain. The inscrutability of it all, and its deep involvement in past history, is somehow symbolised by the city of Toledo, so old and yet so new, so immutable and yet so different to when I first visited it as a student twenty five years ago.
Then it showed the scars of the Civil War, and particularly of the famous siege of the Alcazar. Its narrow streets were deserted; it was down at heel and disheartened. Now the Alcazar is rebuilt, proudly proclaiming Francis's victorious Spain. The town bursts with work, activity and tourists; preoccupation with the past provides grist for the mill of the present.
Above all there is magnificence and mystery, and a microcosm, under your feet and before your eyes. of the whole gamut of Iberian civilisation, ancient, Roman, Moorish, Catholic, and modern, The Cathedral houses not so much a citadel of prayer as a mighty museum of Spanish genius and riches through the ages, with the spirit of El Greco as alive today as it ever was.
Opposite the Cathedral stands the palace of the country's Primate; on my visit to him. I felt as if every vast flight of stairs took roe back a century. But the "holy-of-holies" once reached was cosy and contemporary. and the Primate charming and informal. He was very kind to see me at all. and it turned out to be a most revealing "non-interview."
The Cardinal, as already mentioned. had no comment to make on purely political matters. It was for this reason. he said, that he never normally gave interviews to the press.
His fine dark face and paucity of gestures gave force to his plea for a purely spiritual Church. An irrelevant and irreverent thought crossed my mind as the impressive Primate continued speaking in measured tones, looking at roe through darkened glasses, his Cardinal's cassock and accessories immaculate but worn with unerring natural grace. It could almost have been Anthony Quinn playing a com plex role, with peasant-cumregal perfection, and with the aid of dialogue . dubbed into faultless Castillian.
Students of Holmesian induction might have been tempted to compare the Cardinal's detach ment from secular topics to the singular "incident" of the dog in
the night. Does "silence" front high up on the bubblings of a political cauldron betoken, in a strange sense, the apotheosis of political involvement?
As the Spaniards would say: quizas. Who Knows?