News Analysis

Why Spain’s Catholic vote splits three ways

Pedro Sánchez: Populist measures

The Spanish Church wished “light and strength” to premier Pedro Sánchez after his Socialist Party took a strong lead in Sunday’s election, almost certainly enabling it to stay in office.

In a letter to the prime minister on Monday, bishops’ conference president Cardinal Ricardo Blázquez said: “The support your project has received is a sign of the confidence Spaniards place in you to work for the common good. You will have loyal collaboration in this work from our episcopal conference, which is also at the service of society.”

The greeting was sent after Sanchez’s PSOE party was returned to government with 29 per cent of votes, following an often tense relationship with the Church over its pledge of secularising reforms in education and social policy. Polls suggested that Catholic votes were divided three ways between the PSOE Socialists, the centre-right Partido Popular (PP) and several smaller parties, including the far-right Vox, which entered parliament promising to fight “supremacist feminism and gender totalitarianism” and oppose Sanchez’s moderate policies on immigration and separatism.

Two thirds of Spain’s 40 million inhabitants identify as Catholics, according to an April survey by the Ferrer-Guardia Foundation, though only a small proportion attends Mass, and baptisms and marriages have plummeted over the past three decades.

Relations with the Church deteriorated when the PSOE unveiled plans to increase Church taxes and renegotiate Spain’s 1979 agreements with the Holy See. This was after taking power in June 2018 following a no-confidence vote in the conservative government of premier Mariano Rajoy.

The PSOE’s victory is attributed to popular measures such as raising the minimum wage and appointing a female-dominated cabinet. Sánchez has also pledged to rebury the remains of the dictator Francisco Franco from Madrid’s Valley of the Fallen, which is seen as a monument to fascism.

However, with just 123 places in Spain’s 350-seat Cortes, against the PP’s 66 and Vox’s 24, the Socialists are expected to need a coalition with the left-wing Unidos Podemos, and Basque and Catalan parties
in order to form a government.