Leftwing parties in Spain have demanded explanations after the leader of the rightwing People’s party (PP) “inadvertently” attended a mass over the weekend where prayers were said for the soul of Francisco Franco on the 46th anniversary of the dictator’s death.
Pablo Casado, who has led the PP since July 2018, was seen attending the mass in a church next to Granada cathedral on Saturday evening. The opposition leader was in Andalucía for a party conference and, according to PP sources, went to the mass as he thought he would be unable to make it to church the following day because of work commitments.
The sources confirmed Casado had been at the mass but said it was mere coincidence, adding that he had not known prayers were going to be said for Franco.
A spokesperson for the Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE), which leads Spain’s coalition government, described Casado’s presence at the mass “a totally irresponsible insult” and called on the PP leader to explain exactly what he had been thinking.
Pablo Echenique, a spokesperson for Unidas Podemos, the PSOE’s junior coalition partners, also said an explanation needed to be forthcoming.
“Last Saturday there were 10 masses for Franco and there are about 23,000 churches,” Echenique said in a tweet. “The probability of randomly stumbling into one is 0.05% – yet, according to sources from his own PP, Pablo Casado managed it.”
Íñigo Errejón, the leader of the Más País party, said that while Casado may have attended the mass unknowingly he still needed to address the matter. “If this had happened in another country – if Angela Merkel was travelling through Germany, found herself in Munich and went into a church where people were paying homage to Adolf Hitler – then I’m sure she would have come out the following day and said: ‘I was wrong. I didn’t want to be there and I’m sorry of I’ve offended the democrats of my country’.”
But not everyone was outraged. The Francisco Franco National Foundation – which exists to preserve and promote the dictator’s legacy – said that while it had not “expressly” invited Casado to the mass, it was pleased he had been there.
“We thank Mr Casado and his family, and the rest of those who attended the mass, for the prayer for the soul of an exemplary Christian such as Francisco Franco Bahamonde.”
The incident comes as the PP continues to lead in the polls despite internal rifts and tensions over the party’s ideological direction, and a few days after the government tabled amendments to draft legislation that would in effect allow prosecutors to investigate crimes committed under the 1939-75 Franco regime on the basis that crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and torture have no statute of limitations under international humanitarian law.