A split is being revealed in the Church of Catalonia, with some key Catholic figures in the Spanish region breaking ranks with their bishops and openly criticising the jailing this week of nine independence leaders.

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Nine separatist leaders were sentenced Monday to between 9 and 13 years in prison for their role in Catalonia’s 2017 independence referendum.

The Catalan Bishops immediately came out and said the sentence must be “respected” by pro-independence supporters, despite widespread demonstrations and riots in Barcelona and other cities.

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But two days after the verdict was handed down, the Abbot of Montserrat – one of Spain’s most important religious sites, and a centre of Catalan identity – said the guilty leaders “should be freed as soon as possible”.

“I regret that the judicial route has been followed on an issue that should have been resolved by political means”, Abbot Josep Maria Soler said in a statement.

Soler expressed his “pain” for their political prisoners and their families, and added that political negotiations for their swift release “would facilitate finding ways out of the problem” of many Catalans’ desire for a legitimate referendum and Madrid’s insistence on blocking that vote.

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The Abbot repeated the monastery has sustained over many years for a “constructive, sincere and open dialogue” between politicians in Madrid and Barcelona.

Soler stopped short of condemning outright the violence that have marred the demonstrations in Barcelona over the sentence, but said “together we must ensure civic and non-violent behaviour.

“It could be said that violence like that of the past Monday and Tuesday doesn’t help to build up”, Soler lamented.

For the record

For their part, prioresses and abbesses from five Catalan convents expressed their “sadness and rejection” of Monday’s guilty verdict.

The leaders of the convents of San Pedro de las Puellas (Barcelona), San Daniel (Girona), Sant Benet (Montserrat), Santa María de Vallbona de les Monges (Lleida) y Santa Maria de Valldonzella (Barcelona) called on Twitter for “respect for the truth, work for dialogue and the search always for peace”.

“We express our support for the prisoners and their families, and for the peaceful defence of freedom and justice”, the nuns concluded.

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