The Spanish Catholic hierarchy is panicking at the prospect of a new left-wing Government open to “dialogue” in separatist Catalonia, while laypeople are welcoming that possibility.

Driving the news

“In a non-denominational State it makes no sense that any confession is above the law or enjoys privileges that harm the principle of legality and the principle of equality. For that reason, the Government will make the appropriate legislative modifications to facilitate the recovery of assets that have been improperly registered by the Church”.

Those were the only words that Socialist caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez devoted to matters of religion January 4 in an speech in the Spanish lower house of Parliament ahead of investiture debates that, presumably, will see him win the confidence of the chamber January 7.

But Sánchez’s words were enough to have Spain’s bishops on edge, worried as they are that the new government will repossess the over 30,000 properties the Church illegally ‘expropriated’ since 1998.

The prelates are also concerned that the new legislature will see a cut to State funding of Catholic boys- and girls-only schools, and the downgrading of the teaching of Catholic Religion in public classrooms.

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Neither Sánchez – of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) – nor his principal coalition partner – Pablo Iglesias, of the left-wing Podemos party – are planning changes to the questions the Spanish Bishops really care about.

Issues, for example, such as the country’s treaties with the Holy See that guarantee privileges like the public funding of the Church, subsidies to Catholic schools or the presence of Catholic chaplains in public hospitals and the Armed Forces.

But the PSOE-Podemos political program has been enough to have the president and vice-president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference – Cardinals Ricardo Blázquez (of Valladolid) and Antonio Cañizares (of Valencia) on edge.

“Certainly, because of the current situation, I am very bewildered and see a very uncertain horizon. I ask the Lord that he succeeds in the formation of the Government and then in the daily governance of the constituted Executive, but I am worried”, acknowledged Blázquez.

“I would ask that the spirit of the Transition, which is of dialogue, of mutual trust, of reconciliation, should not be forgotten, because if not, it is very difficult to be able to live together. I hope that blocs on one and the other side aren’t formed, lest we relive the painful chapters of our history”, added the Bishops’ Conference president, who also urged Spaniards to be “very alert “to the decisions that the future Government may take.

For his part, Episcopate vice-president Cardinal Cañizares sent a letter to all Spanish Catholics inviting them “to pray for Spain in all the churches, to raise up special prayers for Spain, to offer all Masses for Spain [and] in the convents to pray intensely for Spain”.

In Cañizares’ letter, which is revealingly titled ‘In this crucial hour for Spain, pray for Spain!’, the cardinal said he believes that the country is facing a “critical situation, a real emergency in terms of its future”.

“The situation is urgent and pressing”, Cañizares insisted in his pastoral letter.

“We are facing a critical situation in Spain, a true emergency for its future. A lot will depend on what happens in the next few days. What I say is neither rhetoric nor sterile drama. This is how it is and we must not mince words: it’s crucial time and an emergy”, Cañizares concluded.

Why it matters

The real reason behind Blázquez and Cañizares’ fear-mongering is not that the new Government of Sánchez and Iglesias will touch the Spanish Church’s various privileges.

Instead, the bishops are worried that the new Government will open a dialogue with the Catalan separatist movement that could lead, in the worst case from the Church’s perspective, to a legal independence referendum.

In that sense, the Bishop of Sant Feliu, in Catalonia, broke ranks with the cardinals and welcomed the PSOE-Podemos agreement with the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC), whose votes it needs in the investiture debate to see Sánchez returned as Prime Minister.

“The tranquility of a pact will always be better than the crisis of continuous confrontation”, wrote Bishop Agustí Cortés in a pastoral reflection this weekend, adding that “if the pacts are truly a good for society, they should be welcomed”.

For the record

That the PSOE-Podemos-ERC pact will bring “good for society” is something the Christian groups in the PSOE and Podemos have no doubt about.

In a joint statement January 2, the PSOE-Podemos Christians called the progressive coalition Government “an encouraging and exciting undertaking” that they are convinced will become “a fundamental tool for the overcoming of impoverishment and inequality” in Spanish society.

The political proposals of the PSOE-Podemos coalition “entail the growth of social fraternity and foster solidarity with the most needy neighbor, for the sake of building a country that is a benchmark for human rights, a culture of care and respect for life”, the PSOE-Podemos Christians said.

The grassroots political Christians also welcomed especially the soon-to-be Government’s policies on employment, public services, domestic violence, migration, the environment and dialogue in Catalonia.

Update 9/1/20 18:56 CET: Cardinal Blázquez yesterday wrote to new Prime Minister Sánchez after the PSOE leader won the confidence of the lower house of Parliament in the investiture debate.

In his message to Sánchez, Blázquez assured Sánchez of the “loyal and generous collaboration” of the Spanish Bishops in the new government’s term, and reminded him of his “responsibility… for the common good in the work for justice and solidarity, freedom and peace”.

Next on Novena:

Grassroots Christians hit out at Spanish cardinal, Catholic lobbies blocking new left-wing Government

Catalan bishop calls for release of jailed independence leaders

Spanish Church cashes in on 30,000 ‘expropriated’ properties

Split revealed in Catalan Church over guilty independence leaders

As separatists jailed, Catalan Bishops plead with Barcelona and Madrid for “serious dialogue”


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.