Spain’s Catholic bishops have expressed fears of a conflict with the new Socialist-led government over radical plans to strip the Church of thousands of “improperly registered” lands and properties, while restricting religious education and legalising euthanasia.
“The Church isn’t seeking privileges but nor does it want to be discriminated against,” said Bishop Luis Argüello, secretary general of the bishops’ conference. “Our welfare state depends on the Spanish Church’s active role in education, health, social services and care for the elderly. Instead of considering it a residue of the past or a nest of privilege, the authorities should value its work with generosity and solidarity.”
The bishop spoke as Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez launched his “progressive coalition” with the far-left Unidas Podemos party, led by political scientist Pablo Iglesias. He told the Madrid-based Revista Ecclesia that the Church was ready to consider “a new relationship more in line with the characteristics of today’s society”, but also counted on the government to “respect the existence of religious confessions, particularly those with special roots”.
But another senior prelate urged Catholics not to fear “insignificance and invisibility, rejection and contempt”, and to “redouble efforts to proclaim the Gospel” in the new political climate. In a pastoral letter, Bishop Ginés Ramón García Beltrán of Getafe wrote: “We are concerned about the unknown, and how the plans of the Left will be fulfilled, as repeated in all the government’s proposals for an exclusive secularism. But Catholics have to be people of hope and instruments of virtue. Although we have reason to despair, we mustn’t lose confidence”.
Sánchez narrowly won a confidence vote on January 7 after promising to talk to pro-independence Catalan and Basque parties. He is committed under the coalition deal to legislation on a range of “feminist policies”, as well as for “a dignified death and euthanasia”; the scrapping of religious teaching in schools; and “facilitating recovery of assets improperly registered to the Church”.
The assets in question mostly concern lands and properties registered for religious uses in the Spanish Church’s 23,000 parishes in controversial circumstances under a 1998 mortgage law loophole, which was removed in 2015.
In a message to Sánchez, who declined the traditional inauguration oath on a Bible and crucifix, Cardinal Ricardo Blázquez of Valladolid, the bishops’ conference president, said that Church leaders would offer “loyal and generous collaboration” in helping the new government “work in service of the common good”. However, Cardinal Carlos Osoro of Madrid urged citizens to avoid being “dragged towards polarisation”, while Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera of Valencia told Catholics in a pastoral letter that their country faced “a critical situation and true emergency”, and needed intensive prayer “in these times of secularisation and the eclipsing of God”.
Spain’s Catholic bishops were expected to coordinate responses to the new government during their week-long annual spiritual exercises, which coincided this week with the accreditation of a new nuncio, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, replacing the Italian Mgr Renzo Fratini, who resigned last summer after complaints of interference by the previous Sánchez government.