The prior of the mausoleum where Spanish dictator Francisco Franco is buried said Wednesday he would prevent the dictator's remains from being exhumed from the grounds, even though the courts and the Church have approved the project.
In a letter sent to Socialist Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo, which was published by several Spanish media outlets, the prior of the Benedictine monks who manage the vast mausoleum near Madrid said "this abbey does not authorise access to the basilica to access a 'res sacra' (sepulchre)."
Santiago Cantera, who stood as a candidate for the fascist Phalange party during Spain's 1993 general election, invoked in his letter "moral and religious principles" and the "inviolability of places of worship" and graves for his refusal to allow the government to exhume Franco's remains.
Ministers want to move them to a more discreet spot.
Spain's Supreme Court last month gave the green light for the government to remove Franco's remains from the hillside mausoleum topped by a 150-metre (500-feet) cross at the Valley of the Fallen near Madrid, rejecting an appeal against it by the late dictator's descendants.
The court on Wednesday said the refusal of the prior to allow access to the basilica was "obsolete" after it gave its "very clear" ruling on the planned exhumation on September 23.
The court was responding to a request for more information on its ruling from Franco's descendants.
Spain's Catholic Church said last month it would not oppose Franco's exhumation.
The secretary general of the Episcopal Conference of Spain, Luis Arguello, said on September 26 that he expected the prior would "listen to what his hierarchical superiors tell him" regarding the exhumation.
But the prior said Wednesday in his letter that the "final word" on the matter would come from Spain's Constitutional Court and then the European Court of Human Rights. Franco's family has said it plans to challenge the Supreme Court's ruling in these two courts.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialist government has made it a priority to transfer Franco's remains from the Valley of the Fallen to a state cemetery north of Madrid where the dictator's wife is buried. It argues Spain should not "continue to glorify" Franco.
Many in Spain are repulsed by the existence of the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum, which holds the remains of more than 33,000 dead from both sides of the civil war.
Franco, who ruled with an iron fist following the end of Spain's 1936-39 civil war, had himself planned the monument and had it built, using the labour of political prisoners.