Monday, February 16, 2009

Church and State

The relationship between the Church and the State in Spain has always been a little on the rocky side. Sometimes the Church was only too willing to cooperate with the State and be used by it to extend State power; sometimes the State turned on the Church and made it the scapegoat for all of Spain’s other problems. The 19th century was famous for the desamortización of Mendizábal, that is, the disentailment/expropriation, when most of the land belonging to religious houses and, eventually, even clergy was seized by the government and sold to already wealthy landowners who were political friends.

Education was frequently a point of conflict, particularly in the 19th century, with the advent of government sponsored schools. And education is still a point of conflict.

Currently, the Spanish government has a controversial civics program that it has introduced into all public schools as well as the “colegios concertados” (semi-private, somewhat like an American “charter school”) and even Catholic schools. Called “Educación para la Ciudadanía”or EpC, it is basically a compendium of the liberal positions of the Socialist government that many Catholic parents find unacceptable, particularly where it deals with sexual matters. Parents have asked for the right to exempt their children from these classes, but a recent Spanish Supreme Court decision ruled against them.
Spain does not have a long tradition of resistance to authority but this issue has actually spurred some action, as parents insist that they will keep their children out of these classes. Here’s a video made by a group of families in response to the court decision: For those who don’t speak Spanish, basically they are saying that they will continue to resist.

There are other citizens’ groups, such as Hazte Oir (Make Yourself Heard) (, which started primarily with pro-life activities. Hazte Oir and other groups have organized huge public demonstrations in Spain, although they are rarely given much coverage by the country’s major newspapers, with the exception of ABC and La Razón. And as usual, there are some clergy – the so-called progres­ or progresistas, who are on the side of the State, while others, including the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid, have found themselves in opposition to the State. It’s very similar to the US situation, but it’s a new experience for many Spaniards.