THE SPECIAL TREATEMENT OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN SPAIN IS OUTRAGEOUS FOR THE RULE OF LAW
The Concordat between the Spanish State and the Holy See in 1979 is in harmony with those signed by Queen Elisabeth II of Bourbon in 1851 and the Spanish fascist dictatorship in 1953. It is important to note that the latter has never been abolished, even if many of the articles have been superseded by the 1976 and 1979 Agreements.
Back in those days these Agreements were a ruse to the secularism established (if in a very confusing way) by the Monarchic Constitution of 1978.
After 35 years, not only has the Catholic Church kept those privileges, but its power has increased remarkably in economic and fiscal matters, as in education and social services, and even in areas related to symbolism (with the complicity of the majorities in Parliament and the Governments in power until this day). Furthermore, Spanish Governments have often allowed themselves to be “intimidated” by bishops with a faith-based morality. In other cases, they simply concur with it, as is the case with the current People’s Party.
As opposed to the confessional-state position of the public institutions, the Spanish society is widely secular, especially the younger citizens. This fact is proved by dozens of sociological studies. 20% of the Spanish citizens define themselves as “practising Catholics” —only 10% of the citizens under the age of 35. Approximately 30% of the population under the age of 50 is composed by agnostics, sceptics, freethinkers, atheists and people indifferent to the subject. Less than 5% of the population is formed by citizens who actively practise other non-catholic religions. Finally, those who profess a deistic spirituality (or other forms of spirituality) aside from official religious corporations reach approximately 50% of all citizens.
As for the privileges that the Catholic Church enjoys in Spain, some conclusive data have been published indicating that the majority of the population rejects these privileges and stand for the annulment of the Agreements with the Holy See.
In a recent study published in May 2013 by the Spanish radio network Cadena SER on “politics and political parties”, it was shown that 60% of voters of all political parties stand for the abolition of the privileges that the Catholic Church enjoys under the Concordat. Only 22% of the population that was interviewed supports the special treatment of the Church, whereas 18% did not answer. Nevertheless, it is of utmost importance to note that 81% of the voters of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE in Spanish), and 88% of the voters of the United Left (Izquierda Unida in Spanish) are against those privileges.
*The complete survey can be consulted in the following link [in Spanish]:
The great privileges of the Roman Catholic Church in Spain are also criticised by many Catholics, even by important ecclesiastics and theologians. For instance, the organisation “Cristianos de base de Madrid” (“Basic principles of Christianity in Madrid” [non-official translation]) has sent a letter to the current Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy. In their letter, members express that “it is difficult to understand the current situation, which is nothing but an anachronism”. Regarding Education, they said that “teaching a religious faith does not belong in schools but somewhere else, and other agents must be in charge of it: temples, synagogues, mosques, etc. If it still persists nowadays like this, it is because of the fact that the Agreements with the Holy See guarantee and protect the ideological control of consciousness of the Church. Furthermore, we find most irregular that the State has to pay the salaries of religion teachers, while bishops have a complete freedom to hire and dismiss them. This is an exception to the regulation applied for the rest of the Spanish teaching staff.”
The organisation also claims that the Government of Prime Minister Rajoy must adopt measures on the social and cultural front: “(…) Furthermore, the Agreements are contrary to the democratic logic, since they strengthen the omnipresent position of the Church in institutions and other places where its presence is not required, such as hospitals, the Army, civil ceremonies, etc. One must never forget about its constant attempts to interfere in social policies and the legislative processes that regulate civil rights, public order, researches, etc. This coercive power is incompatible with the ethical and cultural pluralism of the Spanish society, and is also incompatible with the preservation of the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution.”
As a result, the missive concludes by asking for the State to provide “a new legal frame that protects the freedom of conscience and engages in the consolidation of a public ethics, based on the respect for Human Rights and the democratic principles and values that are enshrined in the Constitution”. The organization adds that “no religious faith or world views of any kind can impose a moral code to the society. The freedom of conscience comes first and must prevail over the liberty of organisations to extend their own set of beliefs and opinions.”
On the economic front, this group of citizens who profess the basic principles of Christianity holds that “the Agreement on Economic Affairs, as many other legal rules adopted afterwards, assign a set of privileges to the Church that ‘cannot be justified in a democratic State’, such as subsidies, tax exemptions and special rights for the acquisition of real estate properties. (…) On the contrary, the Catholic Church is the largest owner of real property in Spain, and fails to meet its commitment to finance itself. This was admitted by the very Church in the abovementioned Agreements, but it still asks for more state subsidies, even if, right now, these are above €10 billion every year.”
This is a matter of political will. It does not have anything to do with legal aspects, like some hypocritical politicians suggest. With this aim, since its foundation in 2001 the partnership project Europa Laica (“Secular Europe”) has organised programmes, public campaigns and actions, signature campaigns, and complaints. We have been agitating and trying to promote a public opinion that will support secularity as a political process in the institutions of the Spanish State, so that all faiths are respected (always in a democratic frame). In order to accomplish this, we intend to push politicians to:
- Change the current tax legislation, as it gives the Catholic Church the possibility to enjoy some tax exemptions, especially concerning the tax on ownership of real property (“Impuesto sobre Bienes Inmuebles” in Spanish). This means that the Church is not bound to pay this tax, unlike the rest of the citizens.
- Change the legislation relative to mortgages and the existing regulation. This legislation allows the acquisition by the Catholic Church of public property, in a legal process called “Inmatriculación” that is detailed at the end of this article.
- Change the tax legislation. Under this legislation financing is being provided to the clergy for masses and the search for religious affiliation.
- Change the laws so that religion is never again in schools and so that the dogmatic catholic teachings are not partially financed by the State through educational subsidies. At this point, it is important to note that cases of gender segregation can be found in many of these schools that receive state subsidies.
- Change the legislation in order to do away with the symbolic confessional nature of the State institutions, including the monarchic Head of State, the result of a fascist heritage.
Thanks to different economic circumstances and tax allowances granted by the State, the Catholic Church receives each year more than €11 billion in Spain. Its lack of transparency and enormous wealth are of utmost importance. Under the abovementioned mortgage legislation, it has managed to acquire more than 4,500 public properties in the last ten years, such as the Mosque of Córdoba, all this with the consent of State authorities.
*You may find this information with more detail in: www.laicismo.org [in Spanish]
Some years ago, Gonzalo Puente Ojea (Spanish ambassador in the Vatican with the first Government of the Spanish Socialist Party or PSOE) had denounced that former Prime Minister Felipe González told him that “we do not argue with the Church”. This is the culture that the political power has transmitted throughout these 35 years in a very unfair way.
Not only because of political reasons (in a country which is supposed to be mainly catholic) or because of the possible actions from bishops, but especially because there have been a series of lobbies that have been acting with impunity inside the political formations, like advocates of the historical privileges of the Catholic Church. They have often served the hierarchy and its “moral cravings” and sometimes, like nowadays, they support the charity work that manages to conceal the multiple “cardinal sins” that the ecclesiastical power has committed.
These catholic lobbies had names, and still have them. They are formed by individuals and organised groups that have operated inside all political parties since the democratic transition, and thus since the beginning of democracy. Some of these people (and their “political heirs”) collaborated with the fascist dictatorship and “moved to democracy in a blink of an eye”: becoming affiliated to right-wing, centre and left-wing parties (especially from 1976 on), adopting Christian democratic political positions and also promoting the Catholic unionism. (*)
In order to leave things unchanged, the different political majorities (PSOE and PP, minor groups and nationalist parties such us PNV in the Basque Country and CIU in Catalonia) have given systematically the explanation that the Agreements are part of the International Law. But they are a legal fiction, since they cannot be considered as such under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969), because the Vatican is not in fact a State. But, mainly, because they violate undoubtedly some principles of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 (articles 93 and 96), so they are null and void.
This will not change without majorities in Parliament, and the Church will continue to enjoy its prevailing role in economic and symbolic affairs, a role that is more and more embedded in a time of crisis like this, thanks to the “charity work” of the Church. Beside this fact, in a moment when public powers refuse to accept their mission to compensate disparities and are obsessed with privatising everything, they give huge amounts of public resources to the Catholic Church so that it can organise its particular “Christian charity”. This means millions in economic contributions to the healthcare and education organisations of the Catholic Church.
These privileges are humiliating for a democracy. The Church is taking advantage of its position in order to lobby the civil power with its particular set of moral rules, eliminating rights and freedoms, especially the freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, and so putting an end to the human dignity.
This evil situation that surrounds us and that kills progress, equity, and justice stems from the neocon ideology, promoted in the financial sector, but also in powerful religious institutions (specially the Catholic Church and the most conservative Evangelical ones) that see religion as an instrument to provide institutions with exclusive and segregationist ideologies in the political, economic, social, philosophical and scientific spheres (pseudoscientific, given the rise of creationism and the limitations to the progress of biological research). They are becoming stronger, but at the same time they risk destroying themselves…
We are deeply convinced that the road to a Secular State is the utopia of all utopias, but that does not mean it is not beautiful to fight for it. Because of this and all the things that the Age of Enlightenment taught us, we try to stay enlightened with the ideas of fraternity, solidarity and justice in the res publica.
Consequently, among other urgent measures, we support:
- The annulment of the Agreements with the Holy See.
- The organisation of a debate in the Parliament for the passing of a Law for the Freedom of Conscience.
Francisco Delgado – President of Europa Laica (http://www.laicismo.org/europa_laica)
Since 2009 “Europa Laica” (“On the one secular Europe“) has proposed the following article:
http://www.laicismo.org/data/docs/archivo_123.pdf [in Spanish])
(*) The Catholic trade union is a model proposed in the Rerum Novarum encyclical, issued by Pope Leon XIII. Its objective is to reduce the revolutionary force of class-based unionism that appeared in the 19th century. In Spain they adopted the form of groups of workers, brotherhoods, cooperatives, savings banks and friendly societies. In 1916 the National Federation of Free Catholic Unions was created (“Federación Nacional de Sindicatos Católicos Libres” in Spanish), which was probably the predecessor of the Workers Brotherhood in Catholic Action (“Hermandad Obrera de Acción Católica”), founded in 1946.
The two faces of the Church: the Catholic Church realised in the midst of the fascist dictatorship that the people was becoming more and more dissatisfied with the political regime, and thus it had to take into account the possible repercussions if it continued supporting the dictatorship, especially in a moment when some important catholic, secular and ecclesiastical individuals started to separate from the political regime by criticising it. With this move, they intended to lay the groundwork for a catholic opposition movement that could claim the right to play the main role in the Spanish political life, if the dictatorship should fall.
Christian workers and activists from the Workers Brotherhood in Catholic Action adopted a very important role in the process of recreating the Spanish labour movement. They helped found the workers union “Unión Sindical Obrera” (a part of which was later absorbed by UGT, the General Union of Workers). Furthermore, they participated in the formation of the first Workers’ Commissions (“Comisiones Obreras” in Spanish), working with renowned communists and independent workers.
Officially or tacitly, the Catholic Church has approached democracy in three different ways: during the transition to democracy, a great number of bishops, cardinals, ecclesial movements such as Communion and Liberation, Opus Dei, etc. adopted the most reactionary political positions. They started to support centre and right-wing political parties and the newborn monarchy, heir to the fascist dictatorship. Others turned to nationalist and separatist positions in the Basque Country and Catalonia. The third option was that of the social or charity work (“obra social” in Spanish), supported by some Christian democrats and the catholic unions, opposed to the dictatorship and included in left-wing parties.
What are the so-called “Inmatriculaciones”?
“Inmatriculación” is a legal form that allows the Catholic Church to claim ownership of properties that are not registered in the Spanish land registration system, under the article 206 of the mortgage legislation established on the 8th of February 1946 and José María Aznar’s decree-law of 1998. Thanks to this, the Catholic Church is considered to be at the same level as Public Law Corporations, such as municipalities, provinces and the very State, and bishops and archbishops are given the same rank as any public official when it comes to certifying that a property “belongs” to the Church.