Spain’s uncontroversial new king is good news for the Church

Spain's newly-crowned King Felipe VI and his wife Spain's Queen Letizia (AP)

What will it mean for Catholics in Spain to have a new King? In some respects, not much. In other respects, a lot.

Yesterday’s ceremony for “swearing in” the new King in the Spanish Congreso de Diputados lacked some of the overwhelming awe and gravitas that accompanied the coronation of our own Queen Elizabeth II, partly due to the religious element in any British coronation being absent in Spain and partly because Spain’s monarchy in its current form has never enjoyed such a sense of legitimacy that the British monarchy has; its current form is less than forty years old.

Spain’s economic and social problems are too numerous to describe here, and have not gone away in any case with a simple coronation’ King Felipe made reference to some of them in his inaugural speech however, assuring his subjects that “in this united and diverse Spain, based on the equality of all Spaniards, we all ‘fit’”.

Aside from the greater narrative of how King Felipe’s reign will follow that of his father following the Franco dictatorship, and how some Spaniards will associate the new King with his father’s connections to Franco; just the last ten years have unsettled the socio-political norm in Spain as conservative voters turned to the socialist PSOE, appalled at the dishonesty of the Aznar regime, before coming back to the conservative PP disillusioned with the secularist excesses and incompetence of the Zapatero government.

In addition, for the last three years over twenty percent of the Spanish workforce has been unemployed, and for a change in the monarchy to occur in these circumstances, with regional separatist tensions stoked by the economic crisis, allegations of fraud committed by Princess Christina’s husband Iñaki Urdangarin and reports of King Juan Carlos enjoying a hunting trip to Botswana in the middle of it all, makes these first few days of King Felipe’s reign potentially the most significant test of the monarchy’s legitimacy since the attempted coup against it in 1981.

On the other hand, seventy five percent of Spaniards rate the monarchy more highly than any other public institution in Spain and King Felipe appears to want to build on his father’s impressive legacy as a bridge builder, describing himself as “a loyal head of state, available to listen, understand, warn and advise”.

The very fact that the King, his wife and children are so attractive, as superficial as that sounds, as well as largely un-controversial, could be their greatest asset in a divided country at a particularly unstable time in its history.

This can only be a good thing for practising Catholics in Spain, as although the King will likely make no comment regarding his country’s policy on gay marriage and abortion, neither is he likely to contradict his mother’s well known position regarding the former; nor is he likely to challenge the position which the Catholic Church still enjoys in Spain.