Monday, October 04, 2004

Church and State in Spain

This past March, Spain held national elections. The result was that the reigning, right-leaning prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, was thrown out and a socialist government installed in its place. The election was big news in this country because of the events that preceded it. The week before the election, there was a terrorist attack in which multiple bombs were set off in the Spanish public transit railway system. Aznar had been slightly ahead in the polls prior to the bombings, but then lost the election. Conservatives in the United States immediately concluded, without any particular evidence, that the Spanish populace went spineless as a result of the bombings. In their eyes the vote was seen as reflecting public dissatisfaction with Aznar's support of the US invasion of Iraq. A more plausible explanation, described here by Calpundit, is that the people were angry about the way Aznar reacted immediately after the bombings.

Whatever the cause, there was a major shift in governmental priorities after the elections. This shift has made the news again, this time because the current government has instituted a series of social reforms (most notably, they have legalized same-sex marriage) that have tended to diminish the role of the Catholic church in Spanish society. The The New York Times has the story here. Here's an excerpt. Am I the only one who gets chills over the quote from the priest?


From one pulpit, though, a priest urged obedience, telling his flock again and again to submit to church teachings and accept the will of God. “We must resign ourselves and think of the hereafter,” he said.

The message delivered here on the Bay of Cádiz and the Sunday scene were classic, but obedience and submission seem to have little appeal for many modern Spaniards.

Summarizing the country's mood, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the new Socialist prime minister, said the other day that Spaniards wanted more freedom, less dogma and a greater separation of church and state. “They want more sports, less religion,” he said.

In recent days, his government has followed up with a series of social reforms, adapting old laws to the liberal mores of today's Spain. The proposals have infuriated the senior clergy, who say they have not been consulted or even informed.

As a result, a noisy confrontation is building between a left-of-center government that says it has a public mandate for change and a church hierarchy that sees a further erosion of the influence and power its has enjoyed here for centuries.

Things came to a boil on Friday, when the cabinet approved a draft law allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children. The proposal, still subject to approval in Parliament, was preceded by some unusually harsh criticism.

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