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Spain Roman Catholic Church
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Church and state have been closely linked in Spain for centuries. With the reinstitution of the Inquisition in Spain in the fifteenth century, the state employed draconian measures to enforce religious unity in an effort to ensure political unity. Strong measures to separate church and state were enacted under the short-lived Second Republic, but they were nullified by the victorious Nationalists. In the early years of the Franco regime, church and state had a close and mutually beneficial association. The loyalty of the Roman Catholic Church to the Francoist state lent legitimacy to the dictatorship, which in turn restored and enhanced the church's traditional privileges (see The Franco Years , ch. 1).

    After the Second Vatican Council in 1965 set forth the church's stand on human rights, the church in Spain moved from a position of unswerving support for Franco's rule to one of guarded criticism. During the final years of the dictatorship, the church withdrew its support from the regime and became one of its harshest critics. This evolution in the church's position divided Spanish Catholics. Within the institution, right-wing sentiment, opposed to any form of democratic change, was typified by the Brotherhood of Spanish Priests, the members of which published vitriolic attacks on church reformers. Opposition took a more violent form in such groups as the rightist Catholic terrorist organization known as the Warriors of Christ the King, which assaulted progressive priests and their churches.

    Whereas this reactionary faction was vociferous in its resistance to any change within the church, other Spanish Catholics were frustrated at the slow pace of reform in the church and in society, and they became involved in various leftist organizations. In between these extreme positions, a small, but influential, group of Catholics--who had been involved in lay Catholic organizations such as Catholic Action--favored liberalization in both the church and the regime, but they did not enter the opposition forces. They formed a study group called Tacito, which urged a gradual transition to a democratic monarchy. The group's members published articles advocating a Christian democratic Spain.

    The church continued to be in opposition to the Franco regime throughout the dictatorship's final years. The Joint Assembly of Bishops and Priests held in 1971 marked a significant phase in the distancing of the church from the Spanish state. This group affirmed the progressive spirit of the Second Vatican Council and adopted a resolution asking the pardon of the Spanish people for the hierarchy's partisanship in the Civil War.

    At the Episcopal Conference convened in 1973, the bishops demanded the separation of church and state, and they called for a revision of the 1953 Concordat. Subsequent negotiations for such a revision broke down because Franco refused to relinquish the power to veto Vatican appointments. Until his death, Franco never understood the opposition of the church. No other Spanish ruler had enacted measures so favorable to the church as Franco, and he complained bitterly about what he considered to be its ingratitude.

    Because the church had already begun its transformation into a modern institution a decade before the advent of democracy to Spain, it was able to assume an influential role during the transition period that followed Franco's death. Furthermore, although disagreements over church-state relations and over political issues of particular interest to the Roman Catholic Church remained, these questions could be dealt with in a less adversarial manner under the more liberal atmosphere of the constitutional monarchy.

    A revision of the Concordat was approved in July 1976 by the newly formed Suarez government. Negotiations soon followed that resulted in bilateral agreements, delineating the relationship between the Vatican and the new democratic state (see Religion , ch. 2). The 1978 Constitution confirms the separation of church and state while recognizing the role of the Roman Catholic faith in Spanish society (see The 1978 Constitution , this ch.).

    Within this basic framework for the new relationship between the church and the government, divisive issues remained to be resolved in the late 1980s. The church traditionally had exercised considerable influence in the area of education, and it joined conservative opposition parties in mounting a vigorous protest against the education reforms that impinged on its control of the schools (see Political Developments, 1982-88 , this ch.). Even more acrimonious debate ensued over the emotionally charged issues of divorce and abortion. The church mobilized its considerable influence in support of a powerful lobbying effort against proposed legislation that was contrary to Roman Catholic doctrine governing these subjects. The passage of a law in 1981 legalizing civil divorce struck a telling blow against the influence of the church in Spanish society. A law legalizing abortion under certain circumstances was passed in August 1985 and further liberalized in November 1986, over the fierce opposition of the church.

    Another manifestation of the redefined role of the church was contained in measures aimed at reducing, and ultimately eliminating, direct government subsidies to the church. As part of the agreements reached in 1979, the church concurred with plans for its financial independence, to be achieved during a rather lengthy transitional period. At the end of 1987, the government announced that, after a three-year trial period, the church would receive no further direct state aid but would be dependent on what citizens chose to provide, either through donations or by designating a portion of their income tax for the church. Although the church's exempt status constituted an indirect subsidy, the effect of this new financial status on the church's ability to wield political influence remained to be seen.

    Although church-state relations involved potentially polarizing issues, the church played a basically cooperative and supportive role in the emergence of plural democracy in Spain. Although it no longer had a privileged position in society, its very independence from politics and its visibility made it an influential force.

    Data as of December 1988

    NOTE: The information regarding Spain on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Spain Roman Catholic Church information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Spain Roman Catholic Church should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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