An international brigade marching through the Spanish countryside, 1938.
Republican Spain fights for us all,
On July 19, 1938, Madison Square Garden, New York, was packed full for the great meeting to celebrate the 2nd year of Spanish democracy's heroic fight against foreign fascist invasion. The meeting was sponsored by the Medical Bureau and North American Committee to aid Spanish Democracy and the Confederated Spanish Societies to Aid Spain. The Spanish Ambassador to America, Senor Fernando de los Rios, Father Michael O'Flanagan, Dr Riuz Vilanlana, Spanish jurist and author of Burgos Justice; Powers Hapgood, General Director of the United Shoe Workers of America; Joseph Curran, of the national maritime Union and Mordecai Bauman, baritone, were the speakers.
We are glad to be able to print the report of Father O'Flanagans speech, as reported in the weekly New Masses:
I have come across the Atlantic Ocean to raise my voice on behalf of the cause of humanity in Spain. The fight that is being waged in Spain today is like the fight that was waged in this country at the time of the American Revolution. The American Revolution was carried out by George Washington and the patriotic rank and file of the American people. They were opposed by the wealthy, privileged classes of the country supported by a foreign army. The part that General Franco is playing today was played by Lord Cornwallis at the time of the American Revolution. Those who are on the side of General Franco today would, if they had been alive at that time, be on the side of Cornwallis and King George III. All the hard, stupid, lying things they are saying today about the forces of the Spanish Republic, they would be saying them about the forces of the young American republic.
The fight in Spain today is like the fight in Ireland in 1798. The men who are fighting for the liberty of Spain today are like the men who fought for the liberty of Ireland then. General Franco, the butcher of Spain today, is like Lord Castlereagh, the butcher of Ireland in 1798. General Franco in Spain today is like Oliver Cromwell in Ireland three hundred years ago. Just as Cromwell butchered the women and children in Drogheda and Wexford in 1649, so Franco butchers the women and children of Guernica and Durango. He has kept butchering them until his friend and all-powerful supporter, Pius XI, has been compelled to utter a word of approach.
This war does not concern Spain alone. It concerns Europe as well and indeed the world as a whole. But the most intimate reason why I have come is concern for the good name and the welfare of my own Irish people. The Irish people have proved themselves great lovers of liberty in all parts of the world. At home, In Ireland, they have fought for liberty. Here in America they played a noble part in the fight for liberty. They gave considerable help to more than one of the republics in South America. You can imagine what a source of humiliation it is to an Irishman to see the great bulk of his race in America manoeuvred into such a position that they are a bulwark of tyranny in Spain. Not merely that, but they are in danger of becoming the very spearhead of tyranny in America itself.
How is it possible that a race that has shown such devotion to liberty in their own land of Ireland are now becoming the enemies of liberty in this land of America? It is all due to want of knowledge of the doctrines of the church to which the great majority of them belong. It could be remedied by another question in the Catholic catechism. That question should be: Is a Catholic bound to accept his politics from the Church? And the answer: No. A catholic is not bound to accept his politics from the Catholic Church. I say then to the Catholics who have come here to listen to me tonight, you are not bound to follow the leadership of your pastor than you would to the views of another man of equal political intelligence. It is also you duty to resent the introduction of political discussion into your church and to refuse to buy at or near the door of the church any newspaper or other publication that dabbles in political propaganda. God's house is a house of prayer and should never be degraded into a conventicle of secular ambition and political intrigue.
I say to the priests who have come to listen to me: you are not bound to follow the leadership of your bishop in political affairs. Rather it is your duty to form your own mind and pay no more attention to the views of your bishop than the views of any other man of equal political acumen or the reverse. You may wonder why I say 'the reverse.' But look at what the bishops did in Austria. They acted with about as much political gumption as a pet rabbit! Many times during in the history of Ireland we have had an exhibit in of the same type of ecclesiastical mentality that has recently been displayed by Cardinal Innitzer and the hierarchy of Austria. I say then to the Catholic priest; you too are a citizen. Do not allow your citizenship to be impaired or distorted. In the exercise of the duties of your citizenship prove yourself worthy of the freedom of the country in which you live.
Remember the rule laid down by St. Augustine; 'In things that are necessary, unity; in things that are doubtful, liberty; in all things, charity.' Religion is one of the things that is necessary. When you speak in church, whenever you speak in your official capacity as a priest, confine yourself to an exposition of the truths of revealed religion. Keep politics far away from the sacred precincts of the church; not merely the whispering politics of the sacristy and the hinting politics of the pulpit, but also of the stammering politics of the porch.
I say to the bishops of the Catholic Church, you are not bound to follow the political leadership of the Pope. If you consider yourself bound to follow the leadership of the Pope in political affairs, you are unworthy of citizenship in any country in the world except Vatican City. If you wish to engage in political discussion, let it be on the same ground as any other citizen. You have no right to use your ecclesiastical authority as a means of imposing your views upon those who are subject to you. The subjection to you does not extend beyond ecclesiastical affairs. They are bound to resist you as a tyrant should you stretch the limits of your authority beyond its legitimate sphere. If your intelligence is so dim, or so warped, that you wish to pray for the success of Franco, do so in all humility in the secrecy of your own heart and in the privacy of your own chapel, for the history of the Church is full of examples of bishops and of cardinals who took the wrong side in times of doubt and of crisis.
To the pope, I say: remember that you are the infallible head of the Church. When you make a solemn pronouncement on matters of faith and morals addressed to the whole church, there are three-hundred-millions of people all over the world who listen to your voice as the voice of God Himself. Be careful not to abuse that position as some of your predecessors have abused it in the past. You have no infallibility in political affairs. When you take sides in the Spanish war, you have nothing to guide you except you own natural intelligence and whatever advice you may get from your cardinals, some of whom, like the cardinal primate of Spain may come to you with all the fanatical partisanship that comes from taking sides in a civil war, and others who can hardly fail to be under the influence of Mussolini. Do not forget that some of your predecessors in the past took the wrong side. A Pope took the side of England at the time of the American Revolution and by his influence on the minds of the French Catholics of Canada deprived this country of half of the continent of North America.
A long line of Popes took the side of England against Ireland. For four hundred years every Catholic archbishop appointed by the Pope to rule the See of Dublin was an Englishman. Not merely was he an Englishman, but in every instance he took an active and important part on the side of the invaders and against the rights and liberties and often against the very lives of the faithful, patient, and long-suffering people of Ireland. In our own day a Pope condemned by name the patriot Fenians of Ireland and another Pope took the side of the landlords against the downtrodden catholic rural population of Ireland. If the political influence of the church can be thrown into the scales on the wrong side in America and in Ireland, why must we take it for granted that it is on the right side in Spain? Should we not rather suspect that being on the side of the tyrant in America and in Ireland, it is more than likely that the side it is on in Spain is also the side of the tyrant?
The Catholic Irish people of America must feel very unhappy at finding themselves compelled to be on the side of Franco in Spain. It places them in strange company indeed. For if they are on the side of Franco in Spain, they must also be on the side of Hitler in Spain. If they are on the side of Hitler in Spain, how can they avoid being on the side of Hitler in Austria? If they are on the side of Hitler in Austria, then they must also be on the side of Japan in China. Every victory for Mussolini in Spain will encourage and strengthen the attack of Japan upon China.
The one great argument upon which the enemies of the Spanish Republic rely is that Russia is on the side of the Republic. If that is a sound argument in reference to Spain, it must also be a good argument in reference to China. If Russian help proves that the Spanish Republic is in the wrong, then Russian help must also prove that the Chinese Republic is in the wrong. If Russia is on the right side in China, is that not an indication that the side Russia is on in Spain is also the right side? Russia it is said has turned its back upon God. If that is so, what has caused Russia to turn against God? Is it not the distorted image of God that was presented to the people of Russia by the type of Christianity represented by the Czarist Orthodox Church of Russia? In the days of the Czar I never heard one good word said about that Church. Today Russia is doing the work of God in China and Spain. I believe that the real God who rules the universe will smile upon the people of Russia who are doing his will, even though they have been shocked into infidelity by the evil deeds that were done in His name, rather than upon those who prate about His name in order to cover up the iniquity of their actions.
Irish Phonetics 1904
'...Though the Irish Catholic Church was violently pro-Franco, there was one priest, Father Michael O’Flanagan, who fearlessly and heroically championed the cause of Republican Spain. He had played a leading part in the movement against British imperialism and had been one of the few priests who openly denounced the Treaty of 1921. Speaking at a meeting of solidarity with Republican Spain in the Engineers’ Hall, Dublin, on 3rd December 1936, O’Flanagan said: “The fight in Spain is a fight between the rich, privileged classes against the rank and file of the poor oppressed people of Spain. The cause being fought for in Spain is nearer to us than realised. The Foreign Legion and the Moorish troops are to Spain what the Black and Tans [a mercenary corps of ex-British officers of World War I sent to Ireland in 1920–21 as a special punitive and terror detachment against the Irish guerrillas and civilian populations] were to Ireland.” He spoke against the activities of the Irish Christian Front in recruiting an Irish Brigade for Franco. O’Flanagan and the Spanish Aid Committee — which later developed into the Irish Friends of the Spanish Republic — exposed the claim of the Spanish fascists and the Irish reactionaries that the war in Spain was on religious issues. Father O’Flanagan went on a lecture tour of the United States and Canada, where he spoke at many meetings and delivered many broadcasts, in which he emphasised to the Catholics of those countries the real issues in Spain. He died in Dublin on 7 August 1942, a sterling Irish patriot and militant anti-fascist to the end.'
Paper presented by Michael O’Riordan (member of the Connolly Column and former general secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland) to the First International Forum on the International Brigades, Getafe, Spain 12–14 November 1999
A meeting of the First Dail, 10 April, 1919, with Fr Michael standing at the right.