Funding for Church to be slashed by Spanish
By Isambard Wilkinson in Madrid
The Spanish government sparked a furious row yesterday after it emerged
that it had drawn up a timetable to halve state funding of the Roman
Catholic Church and to ban crucifixes from public buildings.
The Socialist government has already
pedged to confront the Church ideologically and fiscally and to
transform Spain into a fully secular society by scrapping the Church's
"privileged position in society".
The newspaper El
Mundo reported yesterday that the government has now drawn up a
timetable to break the bonds, removing any lingering hopes that it
might reach an accommodation.
The government plans
to put an end to the arrangement whereby Spaniards can offer a
percentage of their taxes to the Church. This arrangement contributes
£54 million a year to Church funds.
the past have made up the remainder directly or indirectly through
government funds paid to Church organisations. This funding, which was
agreed in accords signed 17 years ago, is also now under review.
Mundo complained in an editorial yesterday that the government's
"secularism should not be used as a weapon against half the country".
Although only a minority are regular churchgoers Spain continues to be
"a sociologically Catholic country", it said. In a reference to the
Spanish Civil War the editorial said: "If we should learn anything from
recent history that it is a mistake to use secularism as a weapon
Earlier plans included a
pledge to scrap the promise of the previous centre-Right government of
Jose Maria Aznar to re-introduce obligatory religious instruction. The
new government said religious education would be optional.
is also to scrap the existing system whereby teachers of religion are
paid by the government but proposed by bishops. The teachers will now
be subject to secular employment regulations.
newspaper reported that a commission under a senior government figure,
Gregorio Peces-Barba, is drawing up proposals to eliminate Christian
symbols, such as the crucifix, from state-owned public buildings such
as schools, prisons and military headquarters.
Zapatero's first act after winning the general election in March was
withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq, to the irritation of America and
Britain. He then turned on the Church, which he views as part of the
"old Spain", announcing a string of reforms that have infuriated
Mr Zapatero plans an
entire programme of social reform, including equality for homosexuals,
allowing women to inherit the Spanish throne, liberalising abortion
laws, lifting restrictions on embryo research and cracking down on
In July, the Church struck
back, springing an ambush on Mr Zapatero when he accompanied King Juan
Carlos to the annual national offering at the Cathedral of Santiago de
Compostela. With 52 clergymen looking on, the Archbishop of Santiago,
Julian Barrio, let loose a withering denunciation, accusing Mr Zapatero
of perverting the natural order.
He declared that
marriage was "essentially heterosexual" and that the Church had every
right to interfere in national politics "in cases of people's
fundamental rights, or the salvation of souls."
surveys show that 80 per cent of Spaniards consider themselves to be
Catholic but half of that figure admit 'almost never' going to church.
Only 20 per cent of Spaniards claim to go regularly to church.
enraging conservatives, the government has drawn up plans to finance
the teaching of Islam in state-run schools and to give funds to mosques
on the grounds that it will create greater understanding of the
country's one million Muslims.
Although Spain has
been a Catholic country since the expulsion of the Moors in 1492 is has
also long had a tradition of anti-clericalism that flared violently
during the civil war. The old saying was that "a Spaniard is always
behind a priest, either with a candle or a stake."