The Bishops of Catalonia have called for respect for a court decision to jail nine separatist leaders while pleading with politicians in Barcelona and Madrid to engage in “serious dialogue” to resolve their differences.

Driving the news

Spain’s Supreme Court decided Monday to sentence leaders of Catalonia’s 2017 independence referendum to between 9 and 13 years in prison for sedition.

Three other leaders were fined for disobedience.

Immediately after the verdict was handed down, independence supporters took to the streets of Catalonia to protest, and also blocked train lines and metro stations.

Crowds also clashed with police in Barcelona’s airport.

The guilty leaders were cleared of the charge of rebellion, which would have brought longer prison terms.

But separatist leaders such as former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, now in exile in Belgium, labelled the sentences an “atrocity”.

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In a statement timed to coincide with the delivery of the verdict, the Catalan Bishops’ Conference (Conferencia Episcopal Tarraconense) lamented the two years’ preventive detention to which the separatist leaders have been subjected.

But they said yesterday’s Supreme Court decision must be respected, even by independence supporters.

“The Court has ruled and, although there are legitimate appeals and differing assessments to be made, the judgment delivered by a judiciary operating under the rule of law must be respected, as well as any possible decisions that may come from the European courts”, the Bishops said.

“In a democratic state, the fundamental laws that regulate the political system and that have been voted and approved by citizens constitute a basic referent of the social order”, they added.

Why it matters

At the same time the Catalan Bishops offered support for the central government, however, they also warned politicians in Madrid that “the maintenance of right social order… needs more than the application of the law”.

The prelates pleaded with politicians to apply “mercy… to tone down the tension accumulated in recent years” as a result of the independence push.

They pushed deputies to “return to the only possible path: a serious path of dialogue between the Spanish and Catalan governments to find an adequate political solution”.

The Bishops also recalled that “dialogue means renouncing in part what one wants so as to approach the other and envision a satisfactory solution among all”.

What’s next

The Catalan prelates also urged politicians to give back to the Catalan people “a sense of the future… a horizon that dispels the feeling that there are no ways to travel”.

That kind of sentiment, for which the Catalan Bishops are known, is usually interpreted in Spain as support for a legal independence referendum jointly agreed upon by Barcelona and Madrid.

“Every human project is based on peoples’ free and democratic adherence”, the prelates recalled, remindng lawmakers that democracy means “convincing and persuading”, not just disciplining and punishing.

“Respectful political and social debate is necessary, as is the exchange of opinions and the shared search for negotiated solutions”, the Bishops insisted.

For the record

For their part, a group of Catalan Christian organisations, including the Piarist Order and the Catalan Christian Federation, denounced the “great cruelty” of Monday’s verdict, which they said was a “big step backward” in Catalan-Spanish relations.

The group added that the prison sentences were “a serious attack on democratic principles” and a “violation of the human rights of those affected”.

The organisations explained that the separatist leaders’ imprisonment was the fruit of an “improper application of criminal laws to facts that are not and cannot be considered criminal”.

They added that the Supreme Court ruling “endangers coexistence and democracy ” in the region.

Going further than the Bishops’ call to dialogue, the Catalan Christian groups said the only way to solve the “political conflict” is the “release of the unjustly imprisoned” leaders.


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.