From Inquisition to uncertainty: The Catholic Church

9th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

After repeated clashes with the Socialist government, we look at what the future could hold for the Roman Catholic Church in Spain.

The Spanish Roman Catholic Church and the socialist government in Madrid have finally reached an uneasy truce over the sticking point on which they had failed to agree for months: money.

Madrid is to hand out more income tax from consenting taxpayers to the Church, but its voluntary 'top up' is to end after nearly 30 years.

The Church will now receive 0.7 percent of the income tax, instead of 0.52pc, from those who want this to go to the Church.

In the past, even if you said you did not want this share of your tax to go to Rome, the state made up some of the difference - amounting to about 10 percent.

And after prolonged pressure from the European Commission, the Church must also pay VAT.

The head of the Spanish Church, Archbishop Ricardo Blazquez and Spanish premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero have finally agreed on something.

But quite what the future holds for the Church is anyone's guess.

In the past two years, the Spanish Church has waged a concerted campaign against the Socialist government's social reforms, including legalising gay marriage, making divorce and abortion easier and amending religious education in schools.

Bishop Ricardo Blazquez

Bishops have led a number of demonstrations against these measures, supported by the conservative opposition Popular Party and Catholic groups.

Indeed the Church was seen as trying to create a grass-roots movement against this government and what it stood for.

It was, commentators believed, an effort to generate more support for a Church whose position in Spanish society is slipping as Spain becomes a more multi-cultural, and hence, multi-faith society.

While the Roman Catholic Church still officially makes up by far the biggest religious group, it has been under threat for many years.

According to a survey by the authoritative sociological body CIS in 2002, though 81 percent of Spaniards said they were Catholics, two thirds of these said they "hardly ever" or "never" went to church.

The degree of concern in the Church itself is clear.

According to reports in Spanish newspapers, letter-writing campaigns and petitions were organised through the Church's national network of dioceses and parishes.

The biggest concern among grass-roots Catholics has been Zapatero´s plans on education.

Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela

The government introduced an education bill to make religious education optional.

The legislation also proposes that religious classes may be taught by people from other churches or religions.

It also wants to introduce a new compulsory subject called "education in citizenship" to teach "democratic values".

Church leaders have argued that the new subject may be used to turn students away from the church or to "indoctrinate" them in the government's own beliefs.

The Church has denied it is staging a campaign against the Socialist government's social reform platform, saying it is simply directed at the educational changes.

The former head of the Catholic church in Spain, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, warned Catholicism could soon become a "minority faith".

Rouco added: "We live in a society threatened and affected by the loss of hope which suffers from the loss of memory of the Christian inheritance."
Few would suggest increased immigration to Spain directly threatens the Church.

But others have said that Spain is simply becoming a more plural and diverse society, which might add to Cardinal Rouco's concerns.

Jose Maria Mardones, a sociologist and author of the book 'Religious Indifference in Spain', believes the Church will have to find its place among other religions in the new Spain, instead of assuming it can dictate to society.

Mardones said: "The Church is only one more voice in a plural society and it has to show its reasons against or in favour of something, like any other sector.

"We have finished with the pre-eminent voice of the Church." 

Against this background, Spain has a long history of religious wars and campaigns of persecution which culminated with the Inquisition which ousted Muslims, Protestants and Jews from the Peninsula.

The Church's power grew last century when the Concordat was signed between the then Pope and Spain's military dictator Francisco Franco in 1953, giving the 'caudillo' or leader, the power to chose his own bishops – and encouraging him to make the Church centrally important to the society.

Many fear Spanish society will lack moral guidance

This power continued almost undimmed until after Franco's death in 1975, when other religions were finally given the right in law to practice freely.

Many in the Church argue that its declining influence will mean Spanish society will lack moral guidance.

But others argue the new pluralism, with influences from many different parts of the world, might prove a better influence.

John Hooper, journalist and author of The New Spaniards, is unsure how it has influenced society.

He says:"The fact that Spaniards find themselves all of a sudden left to their own ethical devices may provide a further explanation for that super-permissive atmosphere which imbues the new Spain."

updated September 2006

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Subject: the Church in Spain, Life in Spain

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