Tuesday, January 06, 2009

For Vatican, Spain is a key front in church-state battle

An estimated 158,000 people attended a Mass and rally in Madrid "in favor of the family" on Dec. 28. Less than 30 percent of the public regularly attends Mass. (Juan Medina/Reuters)

International Herald Tribune
By Rachel Donadio
Published: January 6, 2009

VALLADOLID, Spain: The Macías Picavea primary school hardly looks like the seat of revolution. But this unassuming brick building in a sleepy industrial town has become a battleground in an intensifying war between church and state in Spain.

In an unprecedented decision here, a judge ruled in November that the public school must remove the crucifixes from classroom walls, saying they violated the "nonconfessional" nature of the Spanish state.

Although the Roman Catholic Church was not named in the suit, it criticized the ruling as an "unjust" attack on a historical and cultural symbol — and a sign of the Spanish state's increasingly militant secularism.

If the judge's ruling was the latest blow to the Catholic Church's once mighty grip on Spain, the church's response showed Spain to be a crucible for the future of church-state relations in Europe.

For Pope Benedict XVI, who has staked his three-year-old papacy on keeping Europe Catholic, Spain, with its 90 percent Catholic population and rich history, represents a last hope in an increasingly irreligious continent.

That hope is quickly dimming. Since 2004, the Socialist government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has legalized gay marriage and fast-track divorce, and it is seeking to loosen laws on abortion and euthanasia.

But in response, the church and religious Catholics have been pushing back, seeking a greater voice in public life. The result is that the church is in a full-throated war with the government.

As such, Spain represents not only the Catholic Church's past in Europe, but perhaps also its future: an increasingly secular country with a muscular Catholic opposition, or what Benedict has called a "creative minority," smaller in number but more ardent in faith.


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