A Church-State Schism in Spain

Reply Wed 1 Mar, 2006 01:38 am
A Church-State Schism in Spain
Socialist Leader Backs Policies at Odds With Catholic Doctrine

By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 1, 2006

MADRID -- Shortly after his election in 2004, Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero ended a quarter-century of cozy church-state relations by blocking mandatory religious classes in public schools. He then took wider aim, saying his government would relax abortion laws, ease restrictions on divorce, legalize gay marriage and permit gay couples to adopt children.

In response, the archbishop of Madrid called the Spanish capital "a hotbed of sin." Pope John Paul II accused Zapatero of "promoting disdain towards religion" and said the Catholic Church in Spain would never yield "to the temptation to silence it."

Things got particularly nasty when the media joined the fray. A radio station sent reporters into confessionals with hidden microphones and broadcast unsuspecting priests warning against the evils of birth control, homosexuality and surfing the Internet.

Two months ago, a disc jockey from an anti-government, church-owned radio station in Madrid posed as Zapatero and called Bolivia's socialist president-elect, Evo Morales, to congratulate him for joining the Cuban-Venezuelan leftist "axis." Morales fell for the gag, leading to red faces all around.

With exchanges like these, the battle between the church and Zapatero's government has spread from parliament to streets, pulpit and confessional, creating some of deepest political and social schisms in Spain since it returned to democracy 28 years ago.

"This is a government that is deeply secular and reform-oriented," said government spokesman Fernando Moraleda, arguing that Spain needed to adapt to its position as a modern member of the European Union. "We can't allow Catholic doctrine to be superior to the government and the government's legitimacy."

Church supporters say Zapatero's government is simply anti-clerical -- as socialists traditionally are in Spain -- and out of touch with Spanish society, which is more than 80 percent Catholic. They accuse the government of toying with a carefully crafted constitutional balance between church and state that has helped keep Spain peaceful and democratic since the death of the longtime dictator, Gen. Francisco Franco, in 1975. Clashes between the Spanish left and the church helped propel Franco to power during the 1936-39 civil war.

"The situation today comes from this government breaking with the consensus of the past. The peaceful, democratic transition" that followed Franco "has started to fracture," said Carlos Corral Salvador, a political and sociology professor at Madrid's Complutense University.

Government backers say the opposite -- that the church is out of step with Spanish society, as evidenced by surveys in which four out of five Spaniards call themselves Catholic but half of those say they are non-practicing. Conservative church leaders are refusing to modernize, government supporters say, and are struggling to retain their influence not only with the government but with moderate, younger priests and a flock that is demanding liberalization.

"It is an internal battle of the church, between bishops who were appointed by the Polish pope who are against modernization and who are very conservative, and other priests who are more modern and have less voice," said Alberto Moncada, president of Sociologists Without Borders, referring to John Paul, pontiff from 1978 until 2005.

Zapatero "is doing what the people want, what he was elected to do," Moncada said. "The church is watching its influence shrink in the minds of young Spanish people, and it wants to preserve its old privileges. This is about survival and power."

The Vatican views Spain as a special case because the church here was led by men who were strongly loyal to John Paul and exerted broad influence over social issues, said the Rev. Santiago Bueno, a professor of ecclesiastic law at Esade Business School in Barcelona.

"This is why the Vatican cannot understand same-sex marriages and adoptions, abortions and all those issues," Bueno said. "They are asking, 'How is it possible that Spain, such a Catholic country, is experiencing this?' At the same time, there is a fear that other countries of Hispanic and Catholic tradition, particularly in Latin and South America, could follow Spain's model. So I think the Holy See is playing very strongly in Spain, because it considers it a fortress of the faith."

Officials on both sides of the issue agree that the government is trying to change a relationship forged by Spain's 1978 constitution, which restored democracy to the country after four decades of Franco's rule. The new constitution abolished Catholicism as the official religion of Spain -- but granted it favored treatment, with generous state funding and other perks.

"The Spanish church should start a trend toward self-financing," said Moraleda, the government spokesman, noting that the state currently gives the church about $3.9 billion a year. "It's the best-treated church in Europe," he said.

In the meantime, about 400 same-sex marriages were performed in the first six months after such unions were legalized last April, Moraleda said. Because of extensive economic and social studies required for adoptions, no child has yet been awarded to a same-sex couple.

Those and other changes were needed, he said, because the Spanish people, in their lifestyles and attitudes, "had gotten ahead of their government." He added that "the hierarchy of the church has to adapt to the speed of society, not the other way around."

Many Spaniards say they are caught in the middle, eager to support the church but wanting to curtail its powers. Opinion polls show that about 80 percent of Spanish parents want their children to study religion in school, according to Alejandro Munoz Alonso, a professor of public opinion at Madrid's San Pablo University CEU and a senator from the opposition Popular Party.

Other polls show that two-thirds of Spaniards approve of the government's decision to legalize gay marriage.

As in the United States, the Catholic Church in Spain has suffered from declining attendance, fewer men joining the priesthood and sexual scandals. Spanish society has at the same time experienced a rise in HIV and AIDS, abortions, acceptance of homosexuality and other phenomena that strike at church teachings.

"The state has fallen behind its people and needs to reform and modernize itself, and it's time to get the church out of the schools," said Ana Carballeira, 40, a social worker visiting Madrid from Ferrol, a small port town 380 miles northwest of the capital. At the same time, she said, "the church -- its monuments, cathedrals and artworks -- are part of the Spanish patrimony and should continue to be funded by the state."

"The church is doing a good job in the schools, but they try to exert too much influence on the government, and they shouldn't," said Carlos Solans, 32, an economist with Telefonica, Spain's biggest telecommunications company.

"The church ought to be more tolerant, but the government ought to meet them halfway," particularly because so many of Spain's new immigrants are Muslim, said Jose Moya, 40, a flower vendor on Barcelona's famed La Rambla pedestrian boulevard.

Other people were less compromising. "The government is trying to modernize, but the church is against divorce, abortion -- everything!" snapped Maria Campo, 69, a tourist from Seville who was visiting the Barcelona Cathedral.

"The church is not against the government -- it's defending its values," said Ignacio Arsuaga, a 32-year-old Madrid attorney and founder of HazteOir.org (which means, roughly, Listen up!), a pro-church Web site that last summer helped to organize a demonstration in Madrid against gay marriage that drew 500,000 people, including 20 Catholic bishops.

Special correspondent Pamela Rolfe contributed to this report.


(Washington Post, print version, Wednesday, March 1, 2006, pages A12 and A14)
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Wed 1 Mar, 2006 02:05 am
Pope invited to Valencia by archbishop, not administration

The organizers of the World Families Meeting, to be held in Valencia, confirmed yesterday that Pope Benedict XVI was invited to the conference by the Archbishop of Valencia and not by prime minister Zapatero, as PSOE spokesman Fernando Moraleda had claimed. The Archbishop's invitation dates to 2003, and Pope John Paul II accepted it in January of that year. The Zapatero administration's invitation was a "mere courtesy" sent after John Paul had announced his attendance; it was transmitted to the Pope, along with another invitation from the Valencia regional government, by the King of Spain in September 2005. Pope Benedict has ratified his acceptance of the invitation originally accepted by John Paul. However, Moraleda claimed that the Pope's visit was "in response to an invitation by prime minister Zapatero." The next Spanish ambassador to the Vatican, Francisco Vazquez, said that during the Pope's visit to Spain he will meet with Zapatero.

The Spain Herald, March 1, 2006
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Reply Wed 8 Mar, 2006 07:24 pm
How unfortunate that a small, somewhat "backward" country like
Spain could be making greater headway fighting against the evils
of one faction of religious fanatics trying to run the lives of everyone
else, than we have been capable of doing here in the United States.
0 Replies
Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 9 Mar, 2006 12:33 am
For us Europeans, Spain is neither small nor what I call it a backward country.
0 Replies
cicerone imposter
Reply Thu 9 Mar, 2006 12:55 am
Besides, what would we do without tapas and Gaudi?
0 Replies
Reply Thu 9 Mar, 2006 06:01 pm
Well I certainly stand corrected then, my dear old pal Walter;
official A2K #1 European source of information.
A HOTBED OF SIN INDEED! How ludicrous. It sounds as if
the church is living in the past. ( like about 1 or 2 centuries ago)
I can't help but see it as a good thing that the Spanish govt
is letting the Church know how much the modern world has
changed, is changing and will continue to change. Evolution.
*Just look at the ridiculous nonsense in the US since Bush has
been in office. Now where does his "brand" of fundamentalist
crap belong in the Presidency of the US? You can bet that not
even 10% of the population of this country is in step with the
unfathomable rantings of Bush. Imagine trying to go backward
in time to reverse Roe vs Wade... and why?
*I believe that the religious altercations going on in Spain are at
least stemming from the legitimate argument from a church
of which 80% of the people of Spain consider themselves to
be members of.

*Has it always been so close and strict a relationship between
church and state in Spain? Has the government formerly cowered
under the weight of Church influence on the people of Spain?
0 Replies
Reply Sun 12 Mar, 2006 10:53 am
babsatamelia, you come over as rather ignorant, i am sorry to say. Study some Spanish history so you don't make such a fool of yourself.
0 Replies
Reply Mon 13 Mar, 2006 06:39 pm
*Wow, that was " WAY HARSH" contrex. (from a movie named
CLUELESS) I'm hoping that you are capable of getting the
joke. Please calm yourself, my dear person. Surely this isn't a
matter of life & death under discussion here.
*LEARNING is one of life's happy, continuing, constant processes;
& for the rest of my life I hope to always be learning something new.
*I'm afraid that I simply can't afford to be concerned with what you
think of me. Your opinion is just none of my business.
If my "ignorance" troubles you - well - so be it. All the
members of A2K here generally have their own special areas
of expertise which they freely share with others. What is so
wonderful about it is that it gives me an opportunity to share
what I DO know about, and conversely the chance to question
topics about which I know little or nothing. Gee, when would I
be fitting in this class in the history of Spain, perhaps in between
helping get the grandkids off to school in the morning, running
errands half the day, attending my 12 step affiliated meetings
on a regular basis, doing the shopping and oh yeah, by the way,
there IS no local community college where I live here. Just a
little wee island. 12 miles long.
*Walter has always been ever so tolerant of my OBVIOUS ignorance
that perhaps he has me spoiled ... or it could merely be that I am
accustomed to people with good breeding and manners. Rolling Eyes
0 Replies
cicerone imposter
Reply Mon 13 Mar, 2006 07:44 pm
Hi babs, Nice to see you around again. You know, my specialty is "travel." Doesn't take too much brain power to take pictures of nature.

Some people just don't understand what a2k is all about. If we were all experts at everything, this place would be a bore.

Never you mind those "know it alls." I'm ignorant in many things too, but that doesn't stop me from participat'n.
0 Replies
Reply Mon 13 Mar, 2006 10:11 pm
Well thanks much C.I. It is sure mighty nice to be back
at the computer, back hanging around here at A2K with
so many fondly remembered people. Now, where in
the world could I find a better bunch of folks to gab with?
It has been too long. I see you have "ascended" to
become a "guru in training" Watch out. You never know
what a guru has to do as part of the training. Laughing I
hope you and yours are and have been well. I didn't realize
your specialty was travel. I love it ! And I have taken
photos of nearly every spring wildflower in the Smoky
Mountain Nat'l Park. I am considering a trip a little further
afield next time. We'll have to chat on the TRAVEL forum.
0 Replies
cicerone imposter
Reply Mon 13 Mar, 2006 11:07 pm
Please be my guest to the following link on my latest journey to Central America.

0 Replies
cicerone imposter
Reply Mon 13 Mar, 2006 11:09 pm
BTW, that "guru in training" tag is nothing important. As a matter of fact, I've been banned from a2k three times now. Too old to change my ways. LOL
0 Replies

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