Zaragoza's Cathedral of the Saviour

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

Between 1998 and 2015, the Spanish Church put to its name more than 30,000 properties all over the country, in some cases not respecting the municipal or private ownership of the assets.

Driving the news

The Spanish Government has been resolute in its determination not to publish a 2017 report commissioned by the Congress on the Church’s land and real estate holdings.

The country’s lawmakers wanted to know how much the Church’s portfolio had grown since a 1998 law change allowed bishops to act as their own notaries when registering places of worship.

For centuries, those churches had belonged to the cities, towns and villages where they are located.

The 1998 law also drastically reduced the cost for the Church when registering a property, in many cases as low as the equivalent today of 30 euros.

But Spanish fact-checking website Maldita.es obtained through a freedom of information request a summary of the 2017 report of Spain’s College of Registrars that forms the basis of the Government’s list of the properties.

In that summary, the College affirmed that the Church registered to its name a total 34,984 properties between 1998 and 2015.

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Go deeper

Of those 34,984 Church properties, 18,535 are churches and church outbuildings.

They include some of Spain’s most famous religious landmarks, such as the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Zaragoza’s Cathedral of the Saviour (La Seo) or the Giralda Tower of the Cathedral of Seville.

In each of those cities, as in others all over Spain, citizens’ platforms have been protesting for years that the Church “expropriated” their cathedrals.

But 15,171 properties registered by the Church between 1998 and 2015 have nothing to do with worship, the College of Registrars report confirmed.

Moreover, the Church was able to prove its ownership with a land or property title with just 4,075 properties it registered in the period.

That means that, in those almost twenty years, the Church’s own word as to its ownership was its only proof when registering 30,245 properties.

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Why it matters

Representatives of Recuperando, a citizens’ platform against the Church’s ‘expropriations’, said “it’s striking that more than 15,000 of the assets registered between 1998 and 2015 aren’t used for religious purposes”.

They accused the Spanish Government of “obscurantism” with the property list and of engaging in “secret negotiations” with the Vatican.

Relations between Madrid and Rome have been sorely tested in recent weeks, with the opposition in some Church circles to the exhumation of dictator Francisco Franco.

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The dictator’s remains were finally moved Thursday from his tomb in Madrid’s ‘Valley of the Fallen’ basilica to the Mingorrubio cemetery on the outskirts of the capital.

But Recuperando urged the Government to make haste in publishing the list in order to prevent an “irreversible” loss to the State, since the Church continues to sell many of the properties it registered.

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