The Spanish Catholic Church expropriated up to 30,000 churches, rectories, squares, fountains, plots of land and other kinds of real estate in the years 1998-2015, according to a report.

Driving the news

The Spanish paper El País reported Monday that the Spanish College of Land Registrars delivered a report last year to the Government on the Catholic Church’s land and real estate holdings.

The report was commissioned in 2017 by the Spanish Congress, which voted in favour of investigating how many properties the Church had put to its name since a 1998 legislative change – in effect until 2015 – made the registration process easier for ecclesiastical authorities.

But although the report was handed up last year, the Government is yet to publish it officially.

That’s because it says it’s still in the process of correcting the entries and taking advice on the possible legal implications of the report.

The figure of 30,000 properties is based on conversations with registrars who worked on the report, the likes of which has never been published in Spanish history, El País said.


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Last year the Spanish Government warned that the findings of the report could open the floodgates of mass legal action against the Church for expropriating land and properties that belonged to other entities.

The Church’s claim on the properties in question rests on a 1946 law passed by the Franco dictatorship that allowed bishops to act as notaries and register their supposed ownership over real estate with a mere signature.

For over fifty years that law only applied to Church claims over properties not used for worship.

But in 1998, conservative Prime Minister José María Aznar lifted the exemption on churches.

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What’s next

Citizens’ groups in Spain have longed demanded the return of properties registered by the Church but which they say belong to public authorities or, in some cases, to individuals.

The release of the official report on Church holdings could open the door to these entities staking their claims in the courts.

But with the majority Socialist party still unable to form government after April’s general elections – and with the exhumation of the dictator Francisco Franco still on the horizon – it could be a while before the report sees the light of day.

But any future release could see some of Spain’s most notable Church monuments pass to public ownership.

Some of the churches which could be caught up in future legal disputes include the iconic cathedrals of Burgos, Seville and Toledo.

Or even the famous Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, which the Church registered in its name in 2006 for the paltry sum of 30 euros, but which citizens’ platforms insist is municipal property.

The Church makes millions of euros each years from visits to the Mosque-Cathedral, one of Spain’s most-visited monuments and for which the Church charges an entrance fee of ten euros.

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