Catholic leaders in Spain welcome ETA separatists' rejection violence

In this file image made from video provided on Oct. 20, 2011, masked members of the Basque separatist group ETA raise their fists in unison following a news conference at an undisclosed location. Catholic leaders in Spain welcomed the ETA's rejection of violence. (AP photo). 

MADRID (CNS) -- Spanish church leaders welcomed a statement by the Basque separatist organization, ETA, apologizing to its victims and declaring an end to its armed struggle.

The ETA statement, published in Basque newspapers on April 20, said it regretted the harm caused by its violent campaign for an independent homeland.

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The ETA, which killed around 850 people including police, politicians and entrepreneurs, is due to announce its final dissolution early next month, ending one of Europe's last standing violent nationalist conflicts. 

"We thank God this terrible nightmare of blood and horror is now over -- and we should congratulate ourselves on this victory for the Spanish people's democracy," said Father Jose Maria Gil Tamayo, spokesman for the Madrid-based bishops' conference.

"No idea can justify terrorism, which is always perverse in origin and essence, and nothing and nobody can justify the death of innocents, of whom there are a long list in this case," he added.

The priest told an April 20 news conference that effective reconciliation would require "difficult, costly, lengthy and most demanding work," since suffering would not "end with a declaration."

"No idea can justify terrorism, which is always perverse in origin and essence, and nothing and nobody can justify the death of innocents."

Meanwhile, Catholic bishops from Spain's Basque and Navarre regions said they hoped peace would now "take root forever," but also pledged solidarity with victims of the violence.

"The church has received from Jesus Christ the vocation to be an instrument of peace and justice, consolation and reconciliation, and throughout these years, many men and women of the church have given their best in this task, sometimes heroically," Archbishop Francisco Perez of Pamplona said in a joint message with the bishops of Bilbao, San Sebastian and Vitoria, as well as the French Bishop Marc Aillet of Bayonne.

"But we know there have also been acts of complicity, ambiguity and omission among us, for which we sincerely ask forgiveness. As followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we are aware that we are called to a permanent attitude of conversion, humbly serving the truth and welcoming those wishing to embark on a new path."

Spain's bishops previously have threatened to excommunicate members of ETA, which launched its separatist campaign in the 1960s during the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, when the Basque language and culture were suppressed.

Observers have cautioned that ETA has broken previous pledges and agreements, and has also demanded the freeing of hundreds of imprisoned Basque militants, including top-ranking figures from the leadership of Herri Batasuna, a banned Basque political party co-led by a Catholic priest.

Aritz Parra of the Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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