Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Church vs. State in Spain

The NYTimes has an interesting article on the battle between Church and State in Spain. Spain famously has been a major Catholic stronghold for the past few centuries or so, but now the Vatican is hoping just to maintain a foothold.

January 6, 2009
For Vatican, Spain Is a Key Front in Church-State Battle

VALLADOLID, Spain — The Macías Picavea primary school hardly looks like the seat of revolution. But this unassuming brick building in a sleepy industrial town has become a battleground in an intensifying war between church and state in Spain.

In an unprecedented decision here, a judge ruled in November that the public school must remove the crucifixes from classroom walls, saying they violated the “nonconfessional” nature of the Spanish state.

Although the Roman Catholic Church was not named in the suit, it criticized the ruling as an “unjust” attack on a historical and cultural symbol — and a sign of the Spanish state’s increasingly militant secularism.

If the judge’s ruling was the latest blow to the Catholic Church’s once mighty grip on Spain, the church’s response showed Spain to be a crucible for the future of church-state relations in Europe.

For Pope Benedict XVI, who has staked his three-year-old papacy on keeping Europe Catholic, Spain, with its 90 percent Catholic population and rich history, represents a last hope in an increasingly irreligious continent.

That hope is quickly dimming. Since 2004, the Socialist government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has legalized gay marriage and fast-track divorce, and it is seeking to loosen laws on abortion and euthanasia.

The article suggests that the outcome of the political battles between those who support the Church (largely right-wing groups in Spain) and those who seek a more secular government (such as the current ruling party--the Socialist Party) has broader implications for Europe and perhaps South America:

In a recent interview in Madrid, the secretary general of the Spanish Bishops Conference, Msgr. Juan Antonio Martínez Camino, said it was important for the church “to use all the means at its disposal to promote and defend its fundamental rights.”

He called the 2005 law legalizing gay marriage and adoption “very strange and very irrational and very unjust.”

The implications are broader, since Spain, with its 42 million Catholics, remains a touchstone for Latin America. South America alone has 324,000 Catholics, the world’s largest concentration.

The church is also concerned that Spain could set a precedent for European Union legislation. The Vatican last week said it would reassess its relationship with Italian law, so as to avoid adhering to Italian and European Union social polices that it opposed.

The church also fills a vacuum in the Spanish right. The center-right Popular Party is weak and has never been particularly engaged in religious issues.

Today, one of Mr. Zapatero’s strongest and most persuasive right-wing opponents is a Rush Limbaugh figure: Federico Jimenez Losantos, a former Communist turned right-winger and a professed nonbeliever who hosts a morning radio show on La Cope, the country’s second most popular radio station — which happens to be owned by the Spanish Bishops Conference.

So...the Church in Spain is in cohoots with a Rush Limbaugh like figure who is a professed NON-believer: strange bedfellows indeed! They merely have a common enemy in the current government. If the right is as weak as suggested, the right NEEDS the Church, and the Church needs it, even if it is as secularized as the left. The Church, though, is trying to be careful not to be against the government, but "supportive of families," or, uh, certain types of families; if gay marriage is "unjust" according to the Spanish Church (which is just in line with the Pope's sentiments), then I guess what they would consider "just" ones. It is obvious the Catholic Church is against gay marriage, but to call it "unjust" strikes me as very odd, out of left-field (or right-field). What exactly is "unjust" about having two people who love one another get married? I can see the opposite being unjust--keeping such people from getting married, not allowing equal rights--that subverts justice. I don't really get the "irrational" comment either. The "irrational" statement seems totally irrational to me. There is no rationale for it. While the Virgin Birth, the Immaculate Conception, the Trinity, the Resurrection, and just about any article of faith are perfectly "rational"! Nonethless, it is interesting to see what issues appear to be flashpoints between the Church and the State--usually those very things in which a celibate clergy cannot (or should not) be participating: (gay) marriage, divorce, and abortion. The whole crucifix in the classroom at least provides some variety to the usual fare.

But these are just partial aspects of a larger issue of the Church's role in an increasingly secularizing State. Considering potential ripple effects of Spain's actions in Europe and Latin America, this will be an important situation to watch unfold: will the Catholic Church maintain a foothold in Europe through Spain? Will Spain be in all ways a multicultural society that does not privilege any particular religious group? And how will this actually have any significant ripple effects in Latin America? in the EU? OR should the Vatican actually expend more efforts in its current strongholds: Africa and South America? OR will this have a similar effect as the U.S.? In the U.S. the disenfranchisement of the Church from the State has led to an increase in religiosity rather than vice versa--at least that is the typical assessment. Since the religious groups cannot rely upon the state, they have to become more active to gain support (in people and in money), competing in the so-called marketplace of religions. To find out what direction Spain takes, keep tuning in at the same bat time and same bat channel!


Liam said...

If the Spanish church hierarchy were intelligent, pastoral, and open-minded (as many of the lower-level clergy are, especially in the religious orders), this would be an excellent opportunity for them to reformulate what Catholicism means for modern Spanish society. Unfortunately they tend to be a group of rancid old franquistas who despise democracy.

The Cope radio station is something else. Imagine if the US Catholic Bishops owned Fox News.

The "unjust" comment sounds about as crazy as some of the comments from prominent prop 8 supporters who said gay marriage would be a violation of their own freedom of speech (???).

ChessNovice said...

The Spanish bishops, archbishops and cardinals tend to be some of the most strident conservatives within the Roman Catholic Church especially when compared to the American, and Canadian prelates.

Had he been working in Spain, the efforts of Reverend Thomas Reese to facilitate debates similar those that took place within the pages of America, during his tenure as editor would not have been allowed to occur.