20 December 2019, The Tablet

Spanish Catholic groups protest government reforms

Spanish Catholic groups protest government reforms

A penitent holding a candle during a Holy Week procession in Granada, Spain earlier this year.
SOPA Images/SIPA USA/PA Images

Catholic organisations have joined Church leaders in warning Spain's Socialist-led government against violating the constitution and international law with its projected secularising reforms in education, family life and other areas. 

"This acting government is using totalitarian methods in an attempt to stifle critical entities for exclusively ideological reasons", said Ignacio Garcia-Julia, president of Spain's Family Forum. "We will campaign to demand respect and equal treatment for dissenting entities, for norms of democracy and plurality to be upheld, and for dissidents not to be persecuted and punished unfairly. This is the attitude of totalitarian regimes, not of consolidated democracies."

The Foro de la Familia was reacting to a decision by the government of premier Pedro Sanchez to withdraw a direct state subsidy paid to it since 2003. It said the move, which was not notified or consulted in advance, had been "exclusively political", and demonstrated the government's "undemocratic mood". It added that the Forum, which claims to represent over four million Spanish families, counted on "all citizens who care about the family, life and freedom" to work together to "keep these flags flying".

Meanwhile, Spain's Catholic schools confederation said it was also concerned about government plans to restrict religious education, after relevant parental rights were questioned in November by Isabel Celaa, the Education and Vocational Training Minister. The confederation added that the right of parents to choose "religious and moral training in line with their convictions" was guaranteed under Article 27 of the Spanish constitution, as well as by European Union regulations and international law.

"This is a frontal attack on the education system in force since 1985 – it breaks the social consensus", said the Escuelas Catolicas, whose 5939 schools employ over 82,000 teachers and educate over 1.2 million pupils. "It is typical of a conception of education that shifts the responsible role of parents in the education of their children towards the state, and seems closer to the positions of a totalitarian power than a modern democracy." 

Spain's governing Socialist Party, the PSOE, pledged to renounce a series of 1979 agreements with the Vatican and tighten taxation and fiscal controls on the Catholic Church before winning just 120 places in the 350-seat Cortes in November elections, and has said it will push through the reforms after announcing a coalition with the left-wing Unidos Podemos. 

The 10-point coalition, published in late November, also envisages a wealth tax on corporations and measures to boost job creation and protect public services, as well as "new rights" to "a dignified death and euthanasia", and "feminist policies" against "sexist violence"  and promoting "security, independence and freedom" for women".

In November, the Bishops Conference also hit out at plans to restrict religious education, warning the move risked violating basic rights in the country, where Catholics make up 67.4 percent of 47 million-strong population, according to August figures. Meanwhile, Cardinal Antonio Canizares of Valencia, who bitterly attacked the draft government programme in a late November pastoral letter, urged Catholics to resist attempts to "embitter and destroy humanity". 

"Today they intend to snatch away the faith in schools, by making it difficult for parents to educate their children according to their own convictions," Cardinal Canizares told a cathedral Mass last week. "But everything can be saved, forgiven and purified - everything can be filled with light. There is no room for discouragement or despair."

New data from Spain's National Statistics Office showed civil weddings now far outnumbered Catholic marriages, which fell over the past decade from 100,000 to 38,000 in 2018, with average marriage ages now 38 for men and 35 for women. The national birthrate also dropped 6.2 percent in the past year, and is at its lowest since 1941, with almost 25 percent more deaths now registered nationwide. 




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