News Analysis

The legalisation of abortion may force a bishop to abdicate as prince

Co-princes: Bishop Vives and Macron (Getty)

One of Europe’s strangest Church-state relationships may soon come to an end if a Catholic bishop is forced to abdicate as co-prince of Andorra in a dispute over abortion.

The Diari d’Andorra daily said the warning had been issued by the Pope in a telephone conversation with the principality’s chief executive, Antoni Martí, as his centre-right government came under pressure to legalise abortion. The newspaper added that Catalan Bishop Joan Enric Vives of Urgell, whose title makes him co-prince alongside the French president, Emmanuel Macron, would be unable to sign pro-abortion legislation and would trigger a constitutional crisis by being forced to resign.

Covering 180 sq miles of the Pyrenees between Spain and France, Andorra has a population of 79,000 and a parliamentary government established under a 1993 constitution. The French president and Catholic Bishop of Urgell have traditionally served as honorary heads of state under an agreement dating from 1278.

Demands to legalise abortions, obtained last year at hospitals in neighbouring Spain by 107 Andorran women, according to health ministry data, have been tabled by left-wing politicians in the run-up to 2019 elections. Supporters say it could be adopted by Andorra’s 28-member parliament without the signature of the episcopal co-prince, who declined to endorse previous laws allowing divorce and same-sex marriage, but the Church is disputing this – under the 1993 constitution, Bishop Vives is required to defend “the right to life above everything”.

In a speech marking the constitution’s quarter-centenary, Archbishop Renzo Fratini, the nuncio, urged Andorra to “favour life from conception”. A leading member of the governing party, Josep Mandico, told the Diari he believed abortion should be decriminalised, but that a “middle way” might also be found to prevent the bishop’s resignation.