Spain’s Catholic Bishops are pouring millions of euros each year into a failed television network, despite protests from Spanish society and despite an EU court ruling that prohibits public funding such as the Spanish Church receives being spent on private business ventures.

Driving the news

As Spanish paper El Español reports, the Spanish Bishops sank 20 million euros of taxpayers’ money in financial year 2016-17 into the TV station they own, ‘Trece TV’.

That money came from voluntary contributions from Catholic taxpayers, who can elect every year to give 0.7% of their income tax return to the recognised religion or social welfare project of their choice.

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Go deeper

Since it was founded in 2010, Trece TV has accumulated losses for the Spanish Bishops of over 90 million euros.

But that’s not the only controversial aspect to the station.

The channel is frequently criticised by many Spaniards for its extreme right-wing news and opinion content, which has earned it the nickname of the “Spanish FOX”.

Critics add that the station’s content – which frequently features police shows and old Western movies – has precious little to do with the Gospel.

Trece content also resonates very little with its viewers, who amount to just 2.4% of the TV-viewing public.

The station has also been accused in the past of anti-competitive market practices.

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Why it matters

Accounting and content issues aside, the Spanish Bishops’ insistence on saving Trece is troubling for a number of other reasons.

In the first place, a 2017 EU Court of Justice decision that ruled that the private investments of the Spanish Church, such as those related to Trece, are incompatible with the European single market, since the Church only carries out these investments with the help of taxpayer funds.

There’s also the question of whether the Bishops’ activity in Trece goes against the spirit, if not the letter, of Spanish laws regulating the Church’s use of money it receives from taxpayers.

In theory, the Church’s economic activity should be limited to the payment of clergy and the upkeep of churches.

Another issue is whether or not the Bishops should be bailing Trece out using money from another, more successful business venture of theirs, the ‘Cope’ radio station.

Just in the last three years, Cope has recorded profits of a total of 14 million euros.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.