Misc 03/02/2022

The bishop for whom speaking Catalan was the work of the "devil"

The Valencian Vila Martinez was the executor in Girona of Primo de Rivera's anti-Catalanism

3 min
Study portrait of Bishop Josep Vila Martínez

GironaIn view of the more or less imminent appointment of a new bishop for the diocese of Girona, the Fòrum Alsina has recalled that, in the Spanish state, we come from a tradition of many years, and under different regimes, of appointing bishops in order to denaturalise our country.

The most real example of this type of activity can be found in the presence of Josep Vila Martínez, born in Benavites (Camp de Morvedre) in 1866, who was bishop in Girona during Primo de Rivera's dictatorship. He entered the diocese in March 1926, in order to fill the vacancy left by the Majorcan Gabriel Llompart, who the dictatorial regime –with the connivance of the Vatican– moved to Mallorca, since it considered him not very ductile to the government's theses.

To begin with, Vila Martínez was not anti-Catalan. The bulletin of the bishopric remarked that he had written in Valencian about love for "our language" and that he knew Catalan culture: "In his library and almost we would say in a preferential place, the works of our writers can be seen, both in prose and in verse; he knows our phonetics, our morphology, our orthography. The current state of our literature and of our soul is deeply and wisely appreciated and felt by him". Nevertheless, and following the regime's guidelines to combat Catalanism, he acted in Girona with pro-Castilian or pro-Spanish aims. We are told this by those who applauded this attitude, by the clergymen who treated him and by the press of the time, which was critical of the prelate.

The demon of Catalan

A report sent to the Holy See, in 1929, by a collaborator of Cardinal Vidal i Barraquer, mentioned him among the prelates stationed in Catalonia who, in the last fifteen years, had distinguished themselves by diminishing the use of Catalan in preaching and teaching catechism, causing scandal among the faithful, a decrease in spiritual efficiency and passive resistance from the clergy. On the other hand, an organism of the regime, the Citizen Board, congratulated him in 1927, seeing "the determined patriotism that all his acts inspire", because "he tries, without rest, and within the means that he has in his high priesthood, that the sermons and the religious propaganda are carried out in Castilian".

The bishop of Girona identified Catalanism with the devil. Ramon Corts has transcribed the answer that the bishop gave to the Jesuit Francesc Llorens, when the latter informed him that the preaching of some exercises for ladies in the Adorers convent would be in Catalan: "My God! The devil has taken another fortress". In addition, a phrase was attributed to him that defined its accommodation of political orientations: "Speaking Catalan constitutes in itself an unpatriotic act". Vila Martínez bowed to the pressures of the civil governor, and in 1927 he ordered the publication of the catechism in Spanish. He supported the government's thesis, certainly, but he failed in the government of the diocese, so it is not surprising that a large sector of the priests did not respect him, even though he was a charitable man, and he had to listen to strong words of censure.

When the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera fell, in a pastoral letter of November 1930 he implicitly declared that only the monarchy and the dictatorship were the systems of government that could not be condemned by the Church. On the other hand, the republic, democracy, communism, trade unionism, secular education, etc. were presented as contrary to order, religion, the homeland and family values. He was a belligerent bishop against the republic before the arrival of the Second Republic.

Resignation requested

The proclamation of the Second Republic, in April 1931, was a very hard blow for him, as he was of a fundamentalist disposition. The Catalanist press attacked him directly, because he did not rectify and in the cathedral he preached in Spanish. He was treated as "an official at the service of the regime [of Primo de Rivera]; a lackey of the outdated institutions and a blind prop of all anti-Catalan obsessions". That is why his resignation was requested: "The man who said in a pastoral that being a republican and democrat was an error condemned by the Church has no right to sit in a preeminent place in a society that is republican and democratic".

An illness spared him days of sitting at the head of the diocese of Girona, but caused him other ills that were difficult to bear. He died in Valencia in September 1932. The scarce attendance of priests to the mass that was celebrated in the cathedral of Girona certified the divergence and the hostility that the dictatorship's bishop had created among his own subordinates.