Spain’s new atheist Prime Minister spells trouble for the Church

Spain’s new atheist Prime Minister spells trouble for the Church

Pedro Sánchez has adopted an aggressively secular agenda

When a new Socialist premier took office in Spain on June 2, the Catholic Church was careful to emphasise its readiness to co-operate. Yet within barely a week, as tensions emerged over Pedro Sánchez’s policies, many Catholics were wondering whether the conflicts of past years were fated to return.

The 46-year-old economics professor was sworn in after an unprecedented censure motion over alleged corruption brought down the centre-right Mariano Rajoy. But with his Socialist Party, or PSOE, claiming just 84 places in the 350-seat Cortes, and relying on support from Catalan and Basque nationalists, Sánchez will have trouble fulfilling his promise to tackle the “pressing social needs” brought on by unemployment and economic hardship.

Sánchez broke with tradition by declining to have a Bible or crucifix present when taking his oath before King Felipe. Undeterred, the bishops’ conference president, Cardinal Ricardo Blázquez, wished him God’s help in upholding “unity, prosperity and social cohesion”, and reiterated the Church’s readiness to “collaborate sincerely”.

Meanwhile, other Church leaders, such as Bishop Adolfo González Montes of Almería, played down the new premier’s “personal decision” to avoid a religious oath, as Catholic family and education groups sent open letters urging him to place national interests above ideological preferences.

Yet there are hints of trouble ahead. Sánchez, a self-declared atheist, has campaigned against state funding for Church activities and school religion, and for the removal of religious symbols from public institutions.

The PSOE is committed to legalising euthanasia and strengthening LGBT rights. When it was last in power under premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2004-2011, the PSOE clashed repeatedly with the Church over its secularising reforms, which included relaxing Spain’s divorce and abortion laws and legalising same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, the new foreign minister, Josep Borrell, plans to re-examine Spain’s 1979 treaty with the Holy See. In his first interview, he declared that the government must “take the state’s secularity seriously”.

When the Guardia Civil moved in at the orders of a local Socialist mayor to demolish a memorial cross in Castellón on June 6, defying a petition by 13,000 Christians, many saw it as a sign of things to come.

In a country where only a small proportion of Catholics attend Mass, and where the average age of priests is 65, Sánchez may believe that feuding with the Church is a risk worth taking.

Yet the Spanish Church remains a force to be reckoned with. In a website statement last week, the bishops’ conference recalled the “diversity and breadth” in the Church’s action across society, and urged citizens to “abandon judgments and stereotypes connected with the past”. Whether Sánchez’s Socialist government will adopt a similarly gentle tone remains to be seen.

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2 comments on “Spain’s new atheist Prime Minister spells trouble for the Church

  1. [The latest example]

    Spanish Church expresses concern at plan to exhume Franco’s remains

    by Jonathan Luxmoore – posted Sunday, 1 Jul 2018

    The tomb of General Francisco Franco

    New Prime Minister intends to remove remains from the Valley of the Fallen this month

    The Archdiocese of Madrid has warned the Spanish government against plans to exhume the remains of the country’s late dictator, General Francisco Franco, without obtaining agreement from interested parties.

    “We want a solution which helps build a peaceful country,” said Rodrigo Pinedo Texidor, archdiocesan communications director, noting that the archdiocese is not for or against the removal of Franco’s remains.

    “We are against moves which don’t have his family’s consent and don’t consider what the Church has to say,” he told Catholic News Service after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez confirmed plans to remove the remains from a state mausoleum at the Valley of the Fallen, near Madrid, by the end of July.

    Besides the remains of Franco, who ruled Spain until his death in 1975, the Valley of the Fallen contains the remains of at least 34,000 people who died in the 1936-1939 civil war, and includes a 500-foot-tall cross and pontifical Santa Cruz basilica.

    Sanchez announced plans to transform the Valley of the Fallen into a national remembrance centre.

    “There’s also a Benedictine community at the Valley charged with praying for peace and brotherhood between Spaniards. So although the Church doesn’t have the final say, its voice must be heard,” Pinedo said.

    No one from the government had been in touch with the Madrid archdiocese, whose archbishop, Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra, shares responsibility for the Valley of the Fallen, he said.

    It is unlikely that “technical and canonical issues” surrounding the exhumation could be resolved within a month, with legally required consent from Franco’s family, he said.

    “Although this is officially a national monument, the Catholic Church has to be consulted on burial-related matters under our state’s agreements with the Vatican,” Pinedo said.

    Spain’s La Razon daily newspaper said the dictator’s seven grandchildren had asked the church to block the move, in a late-June letter to Fr Santiago Cantera, prior of the site’s Benedictine abbey.

    Fr Jose Maria Gil Tamayo, bishops’ conference secretary-general, told journalists that the proposed exhumation had been discussed by Sanchez and conference president, Cardinal Ricardo Blazquez Perez of Valladolid, in talks at Madrid’s Moncloa Palace on June 25.

    Cardinal Blazquez had confirmed the bishops’ conference would not oppose the move, which was “not up to the Church to decide one way or another,” Fr Tamayo said.

    Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister, Carmen Calvo, said on television that the government had held talks with Franco’s family and Church leaders and would proceed with the exhumation “as soon as possible”, in line with a parliamentary mandate “to stop having a dictator in a place of honour”.

  2. Spanish Congress agrees to examine euthanasia bill

    Madrid, Spain, Jun 29, 2018 / (CNA/EWTN News).- Spain’s lower house of parliament has agreed to consider a bill that would legalize euthanasia in the country.

    Members of the Congress of Deputies voted 208-133 on Tuesday to consider the bill, which was introduced by the Socialist Party (PSOE).

    Adriana Lastra, a spokeswoman for PSOE, said the bill was modeled after legislation in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg. If passed, adults with a serious, chronic disability or terminal illness could request assisted suicide funded by the health system.

    Before life-ending drugs are administered, patients would be required to receive approval from two doctors and repeat their desire to die 15 days after their first request.

    Patients who can no longer make decisions but had previously instructed that they wanted to die by euthanasia would also be eligible.

    The proposal is supported by several of Spain’s parties across the political spectrum.

    The main opposition to the bill is the Popular Party (PP). According to El Pais, PP spokesperson Pilar Cortés called Tuesday “a sad day.” She said it is a political failure that the government is incapable of “offering solutions other than dying.”

    “To talk about euthanasia is to talk about failure, to admit a political, professional and medical defeat,” she said.

    Cortés also warned of the potential for abuse, noting that in the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal, there are estimated to be some 1,000 instances of involuntary euthanasia cases a year. She said “given time, exceptional situations will turn into habitual situations” because lethal drugs are more cost effective than other treatments.

    Last month, the lower house agreed to consider a similar, less specific bill to legalize assisted suicide. That bill, introduced by Catalonia’s regional parliament, did not lay out specifications under which assisted suicide would be permitted.

    In a statement last month, the Spanish bishops spoke out against efforts to legalize euthanasia, arguing that “What patients and their families really want is help to deal with the challenges and personal and family difficulties that only happen in the last moments of life.”

    They called for laws that respect life while alleviating pain, improving quality of life, supporting families, and offering spiritual and emotional assistance to prepare for death.

    “It is striking that a law on euthanasia is going to be submitted when the state has never laid down any law on palliative care,” the bishops said. “It is precisely this care that is widely demanded by society, and health professionals in particular.”

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