FROM A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
SIGNS are growing in Spain of a drastic reorientation in the Church's political and social thinking which could transform it into a major threat to the strongarm regime of Gen. Franco.
For the first time the Spanish episcopate has split on political considerations and some bishops are joining a generation of rebellious and independent young priests in demanding reforms in Franco's 32year-old dictatorship.
That the Government itself fears the Church is shown by the fact that official censors have banned the pastoral letters of at least four bishops letters which called for social reforms or which attacked the "state of exception" — or semi-martial law — with which the regime put aside civil rights on January 24.
In addition, one newspaper editor said, the censors also recently banned an article which quoted some of Pope Paul VI's declarations on theyounger generation.
It is the state of exception that has most contributed to the major division in the episcopate.
The split is one of generations. The typical older Spanish bishop is a man whose ideas perhaps were influenced by Communist persecution in the civil war and who tends to look upon Franco as a saviour of Catholicism.
Younger and more recently elevated bishops, many of them influenced by the Vatican Ecumenical Council, are often more independent. and questioning. Even if some of them are conservative in religious thinking, they are seen more as men of the church than supporters of Franco.
The recent assembly of the Spanish episcopal conference gave an indication of how deep the fissure goes. The bishops divided almost equally on who should be president of the conference for the next three years. The choice was between Archbishop Morcillo, Archbishop of Madrid, and the new Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain, Archbishop
Tarancon. Archbishop Morcillo won narrowly.
Since his election Archbishop Morcillo is under increasing pressure to resign the positions he holds in the Government.
As a member of the Regency Council, he would be one of the three rulers of the country if Gen. Franco were unable to govern. In addition, Archbishop Morcillo is a member of the Governing Council Franco's advisory board— and a delegate of the Church in the Cortes (Parliament).
Although a minority of reform-minded Catholics have been opposed to this arrangement for several years. their ranks have been growing, as priests, laymen and the Catholic Press urge Church leaders to end such involvement with the Government.
This political involvement, however, is not Archbishop Morcillo's own doing, because the Spanish constitution gives a strong voice and representation to the Church in the nation's affairs.
The archbishop faces a dilemma in deciding whether or not to end this involvement. If he resigns his State functions — in which he was confirmed by Franca — he could well unleash a political crisis of national proportions which only an amendment to the constitution or a plebiscite could resolve. On the other hand. if he does not heed the growing pressure from those who favour ending this Church-State involvement as a basis for social reform and Church renewal, he will commit the bishops to an apparent compromise with government demands. Archbishop Morcillo himself, before his election to the presidency of the bishops' conference, discussed the question of the concordat, which the censorship imposed by the "state of exception" has buried, along with many other national issues. "The history of the Church," he told a newspaper interviewer, "is, often written in the history of concordats, as she has been forced to make concessions detrimental not to her doctrinal purity, but to her freedom and autonomy." He then called for "a perfect coordination between Church and State," and for "a free and noble cooperation" among Government and Church authorities, in such matters as the choice of bishops, "which belong exclusively to the Pope," and the recognition of religious plurality.
"The important thing is not to close our eyes to everyday realities. and to face theproblems with goodwill, honesty and without' prejudice," he said.
ABBOT'S ATTACK Meanwhile Abbot Just, Abbot of the Benedictine Abbey at Montserrat, in an interview on West German television, said that all human rights had been trampled on in Spain and the only free choice remaining was selection of a marriage partner. • He said minorities were under severe restrictions and the country was divided into victors and vanquished, as it was after the civil war of t936-39. The state of exception had not changed the situation "except that the vanquished are now persecuted more than ever."
The number of political arrests was extremely high and the police were using psychological and physical torture on political prisoners. Lawyers who defended opponents of the government were being persecuted. In the present situation the Church must make amends for its "sin" of integrating itself with the Franco regime.
There has been tension for some time between Montserrat Abbey and the Spanish authorities. The authorities have accused the monks of being responsible for much of the -subversive propaganda" circulating in Catalonia, and in 1965 exiled Abbot Just's predecessor, Abbot Escarre, an outspoken critic of the Franco regime.
Bridges of London charity walk
THE British Council for Rehabilitation of the Disabled is organising its fourth "Cross the Bridges of London" sponsored walk on March 23. It covers a 20-mile route from London Bridge to Kew.
Previous similar walks have raised more than £30.000 for the welfare and training of young disabled people and the target for the March 23 event is £40,000.
Points are awarded for each bridge crossed, with silver cups for the winner and runner-up. Entry forms can be obtained from Rehab Walk, Tavistock House, Tavistock Square, London, W.C.1.