Right now I'm trying to learn about Spain's transition to democracy in the 20th century. To start, I'm looking at the civil war that took place in the '30s. And the question I'm trying to answer is: what was everybody mad about?

Wikipedia (I know, I know) says:

"The central issue was the role of the Catholic Church, which the left saw as the major enemy of modernity and the Spanish people, and the right saw as the invaluable protector of Spanish values."

They cite Richard Herr's An Historical Essay on Modern Spain.

What I don't understand is what the Church was doing that was so controversial. What was it that people on left and right were afraid of?

The left side wanted to reduce the influence of the Church. Why?

The right side wanted to keep the church as it was, or buttress it. Why?

Thanks very much!

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    I can't write a full answer, but the Church supported the big landlords and the nobility, the monopoly in education, exploiting the properties it had, getting tithes... In short, keeping their status as a wealthy power in Spain. Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 20:11
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    It's always important to keep in mind that no organization with more than one person in it has a single reason for anything. An no organization has a mind or motives -- only people have those. The real answer is never simple.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 20:28
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    A point that may be difficult to understand is how powerful the Catholic Church was at the time, specially at small towns. Getting excomunicated was a pretty harsh punishment to someone who only knew Catholics and who was always told that every non-Catholic would go to Hell. And even if you did not care, it would made you an outcast; as anyone who remained on good terms with you could be the priests'next target. The Church regularly used that power against anybody demanding social reform, so in the end most reformists saw the Church as an obstacle at best.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 21:53

2 Answers 2


I don't have much specific knowledge about this topic, but I can help you try to dig a little deeper into other relevant articles on Wikipedia :)

The two sides of the Spanish Civil War were the Republicans versus the Nationalists. The Republican side constitutes the "left" referred to in the question. The Nationalists sought to restore the "traditional" political order in Spain, which very much included (along with the monarchy and the aristocracy) the power of Catholic Church.

A key even that precipitated the Spanish Civil War was the fall of the monarchy and the formation of the Second Spanish Republic under a new 1931 Constitution. To say that Republicans aimed to "reduce the influence of the Church" in this period is probably an understatement of the hostility. This following is from the article on the history of the Church in Spain:

The Republican government which came to power in Spain in 1931 was strongly anti-clerical, secularising education, prohibiting religious education in the schools, and expelling the Jesuits from the country. In May, 1931, a wave of attacks hit Church properties in Madrid, Andalucia, and the Levant, as dozens of religious buildings, including churches, friaries, convents, and schools, lay in ruins. The government expropriated all Church properties, such as episcopal residences, parish houses, seminaries and monasteries. The Church had to pay rent and taxes in order to continuously use these properties. Religious vestments, chalices, statues, paintings, and similar objects necessary for worship were expropriated as well.

In 1937, two previously distinct factions unified under the Nationalist banner. One of these factions, the Carlist, traced back to the 1830s was always zealously pro-Catholic. Conflicts between liberals and Catholics over land and educational reform were already evident in Spain during that period. The other Nationalist faction in the 1930s was Falangist, which was also pro-Catholic despite some more secularist elements. So while the Nationalist movement and the Catholic Church were far from identical, they were very closely connected.

Finally I will point you toward the article on Catholicism in the Second Republic. There is a lot of detail there about the role of the Church in education, the ties between the Church and rural elites, and so on.


To answer your question about the Catholic Church in 1930s Spain. The answer is, the Church wanted to avoid change and retain the status quo. To make an overly bold statement, the left were desperate for change based on the model emanating from Russia and the revolution of 1917. This is overly simplistic as there was no single faction of the left, it had varying degrees of extremism from the moderates to the radical POUM who were Marxist and sought change by revolutionary means.The right, on the other hand, were conservative and wanted to retain traditional institutions such as the family and religion. Franco, however wasn't a Fascist (unlike Mussolini) and was opposed to change. One of the identifiers of Fascism is dynamism and this certainly wasn't part of Franco's rationale. The Catholic Church simply wanted to retain the traditional institutions in Spain and preserve its own status.

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    Hi EMF and welcome to History SE. You answer would be improved if you added links / sources to your answer. Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 22:58
  • I'm sorry I took this to be a serious academic discussion and was prepared to give a considered response based on 20 + years of teaching at A Level and degree level. The comments I posted are surmised from the works of writers such as; Preston, Beevor, Hemingway, Orwell et al. I'm afraid that you cannot understand the issues in a complex situation such as this without extensive research and an academic thoroughness. If you are content with a pre GCSE narrative then by all means consult and cite net resources such as Wikipedia.
    – EMF
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 21:25
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    It is precisely because this is a serious Q & A (though not discussion) site that we prefer sourced answers, preferably ones which have academic credibility (we don't encourage Wikipedia answers as that is simply repeating what is already available). Giving sources is 'academic thoroughness' (100% with you on this phrase) and allows readers to follow up and learn more if they so wish. Also, please consider that we do not know your background (or rather didn't until you posted this comment) - perhaps you should put this info on your profile page. Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 3:09

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