A tone-deaf Spanish Bishops’ Conference has spent money on a 20-page newspaper ad to ask people for more money.
The ad – which came out in the June 4 edition of the El País paper, and took up nearly a quarter of the publication for that day – attempted to show why Spaniards should tick the box in favour of the Catholic Church in their tax returns and thereby donate 0.7% of their credits to the institution.
Though the supplement featured sections on the Church’s evangelising and social work – with profiles of laypeople, information on its outreach to migrants, details of its contribution to paliating the health and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and the like – it also raised eyebrows given that the cost of such a publication would have risen to tens of thousands of euros at market rates.
Another motive for scandal around the Spanish Bishops’ Conference ad is the fact that the Conference has been rattling the tin for donations with an all-out assault on TV, radio and online and with the excuse of a coronavirus-related dip in income.
That’s even despite the new record high in tax return income it reported mid-May to the tune of 285.2 million euros in 2019: 17 million euros more than the year before.
– A spending spree despite Church charity alerting of 30% rise in severe poverty in May
What makes the Spanish Bishops’ fundraising campaign especially objectionable is not only the comfortable financial position the Episcopal Conference enjoyed before the onset of the coronavirus, but also its incongruence with Gospel values and its insensitivity to the economic difficulties citizens are beginning to experience as a consequence of the pandemic.
Church social service organisation Caritas, for example, revealed this last week that levels of severe poverty increased by 30% in May in Spain due to the virus crisis, which has also left over half-a-million people in the unfamiliar position of not receiving any income.
– Opposed to “handouts” for citizens… despite receiving 11 billion euros annually in handouts
Not only that, but the Spanish Bishops as a conference have repeatedly come out against proposals of an unconditional basic income, with their opposition perhaps being decisive in the watering-down of original basic living stipend proposals into the minimum living income policy that was passed by the Spanish government May 29.
The latest show of opposition to the minimum living income in itself – and of extending that scheme into a full-blown unconditional basic income regime – came May 21 from former Bishops’ Conference president Cardinal Ricardo Blázquez, who lamented that it isn’t “ideal” that people live on “handouts”.
That’s despite the handouts the Spanish Church also receives apart from its tax return income, which secular-humanist group Europa Laica estimates could rise as high – between tax breaks, subventions, subsidies, and the like – as 11 billion euros annually.
Conference vice-secretary for economic affairs Fernando Giménez Barriocanal has been arguing that the money the Church needs to help people “doesn’t grow on trees”, but instead depends on the generosity of the faithful.
It’s also worth remembering too, however, the vast real estate and property assets the Church has to its name in Spain – a portfolio which it boosted by 30,000 properties in the years from 1998 to 2015 with a registration drive that at least in some cases didn’t respect the pre-existing municipal or private ownership of the assets.