People stand around the tomb of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco inside the basilica at the the Valley of the Fallen monument near El Escorial, outside Madrid, Spain, Aug. 24, 2018.
People stand around the tomb of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco inside the basilica at the the Valley of the Fallen monument near El Escorial, outside Madrid, Spain, Aug. 24, 2018.

ROME - The Vatican will not oppose the exhumation of the remains of the late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and their removal from a huge mausoleum outside Madrid built in memory of the fallen in the 1930s Spanish civil war. But still unclear is where Franco’s remains will then be buried.

During and after a bitterly fought civil war in which Generalissimo Francisco Franco's Nationalist forces defeated leftist Republicans, the Spanish leader engaged in an organized effort to stamp out remaining leftist and communist movements in Spain - a campaign in which tens of thousands of people were either executed, sent to concentration camps, or exiled. Franco's government had close ties with the Roman Catholic Church.

Since assuming power this year, the Spanish socialist government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has driven the push to exhume the remains of the late military dictator, which have been buried in the Valley of the Fallen near Madrid since his death in 1975. It has now obtained the assurances from the Vatican that the Catholic Church's leadership will not oppose the move, which has been highly controversial in Spain.

Spain’s deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, held a two-hour meeting with Secretary of State Pietro Parolin at the Vatican this week, described by the Spanish government as “extremely cordial." A government statement issued after the meeting said, “The Church shared its concern, which is the same as the government’s, to grant justice to the victims of abuses and prevent these events in the future.”

Calvo recently defended the Spanish government’s decision to exhume Franco’s remains from its current resting place, deemed by many to be inappropriate and disrespectful.

But the deputy prime minister said “there is no respect, no honor, no justice, no peace or harmony while the remains of Franco are in the same place as those of the victims.”

Where Franco’s remains would be re-interred is unclear. Calvo has explained that although the government can have the exhumation take place, it is up to the dictator’s family to decide where his remains will be moved.

Franco’s family owns a crypt in the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid’s city center, but there too have been protests outside the church against the possibility of having the dictator’s remains placed there. On the reburial, the Vatican and Spanish government “agreed on the need to find a solution and continue to maintain dialogue.”

The mausoleum in the Valley of the Fallen holds the remains of some 34,000 people who fought on both sides in the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish government presented it as a place of reconciliation at the time, but in the years after the death of the dictator it turned into a symbolic site for those nostalgic of the Franco days and - from the viewpoint of the current government and those on the left - is portrayed as an embarrassment for Spain's modern democracy.