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Thursday, September 20, 2012 (read 1530 times)

The relationship between Church and State in Spain

by Laura

It is commonplace knowledge that the kingdom of Spain is a Catholic kingdom. With a historical discourse that so intolerantly expelled the Muslims and Jews (even those ones who claimed to have converted), and also saw the country so fervently engage in the Thirty Years’ War against that northern plague of Protestantism, one would have to assume that religion in Spain is, or at least was, something that very much affected the affairs of the state. Looking even just superficially at the Spanish Civil War (the focal point of the country’s recent discourse), its causes and its unforgettable consequences we make ourselves aware of the fact that, as recently as the 1940s, the Spanish church and state were at once so greatly entangled with each other. Today, the majority of European politics takes place entirely without the sphere of religious influence and Spain is no exception. Territorial expansion in the name of God is a well out of date just cause for invasion and conversely, as of 1976 (although ludicrously late), the Spanish king no longer elects his bishops. Regardless of this necessary separation of two conjoined twins each grasping in opposite directions, the relationship between the Church and the State in Spain is one of particular interest, since after all, its rupture was a violent one.

In response to particularly harsh criticism on Spain’s ‘loss of faith’ from Pope Benedict XVI in November 2010, then Prime Minister Zapatero of the PSOE felt the need to remind the Pope that Spain is a guaranteed secular government. But of course, this remark strikes such great discord with the sound of Francoist Spain during which, accepting Catholicism to be the example of ‘perfect society’, in 1953 signed an agreement with the Vatican placing Catholicism at the centre of all state affairs. A variety of legal advantages were conferred onto the church and its clergy: exemption from taxes and favour in court. Such was the relationship between the church and the state during this period; under Franco the church flourished and with the church on his side, Franco’s regime endured. But it is here that we become aware of a more politically fuelled interest in the church.

Being somewhat removed from and yet so heavily dependent on a country’s political affairs, it is unsurprising that the church, generally speaking, supports the winning party and in the case of Spain of the Second Republic in which the clericalism of the right was immediately understood by the popular masses to be some sort of allegiance leaving those parties of the left, the socialists and the anarchists, no choice but to be anticlerical. Made subject of the peoples’ insurrections, the church, suffering killings and pillage, had no choice but to back the Nationalists if it wanted to endure. This perhaps was the rupturing point of the Church in Spain’s recent history. By losing the support of an entire people in some little space of time, the Catholic Church desperately clung onto the Nationalist movement which, in fortunate coincidence, clung back, equally desperate for survival.

Somewhat paradoxically, the fall of Catholic dominance in Spain first manifested itself with an edad de oro under Nationalist Spain. The Vatican II, the 1953 Concordat, and other contracts made with the Holy See left Catholicism in Spain at its height. But it was a clerical height, entirely unsupported by the people and so when that blanket of suppression was relieved at Franco’s death, the aforementioned agreements with the church were all once again reviewed. Today Spain is a self-claimed secularised state and we frequently also talk of a secularised Spanish people, but perhaps there is still something of a Spanish Church and state relationship.

Keywords: church and state,church in spain,religion in spain,seperation of church and state


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