Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Pain in Spain

by Edd Doerr

Headline in today's (8/16/11) New York Times: "Catholic Clergy Protest Pope's Visit And Its Price Tag". The story: Over 100 priests have signed a petition "deploring the pope's visit this week on many grounds -- from its cost (at least $72 million) to what they see as an inappropriate melding of church and state". The priests have joined with groups demanding a more secular state. The pope is coming to Madrid for World Youth Day. "Pilgrims will be allowed to sleep in public buildings like schools. And businesses will be able to get tax deductions for their contributions." Pilgrims will get 80% discounts on public transportation.

Background: Since the expulsion or forced conversion of Jews and Muslims after 1492, church and state were joined at the hip in Spain. The Inquisition was particularly brutal. With the advent of liberalism in Spain after 1800 conflicts over religion became more frequent. When the democratic Republic was established in 1931, church and state were separated. But in 1936 conservatives, fatcats, fascists and the church joined in supporting Franco's military uprising, which, with the indispensable help of Hitler and Mussolini, crushed the Republic and instituted a dictatorship that lasted until 1975.

Back to the 8/16 NY Times, which noted that a July survey shows that only 71.7% of Spaniards today declare themselves Catholic, down from 82.1% in 2001. Sunday church attendance has dropped to less than 10%.

In a tax check-off system similar to our US income tax form which allows us to check a box to give a small fixed amount for presidential campaigns, Spain allows taxpayers to check a box that allows the payer to designate 0.7% of their taxes to the Catholic church. But unreported in the Times is the fact that Spain offered the same deal to Spanish Protestants, Jews and Muslims, all of whom turned down the deal. How many Spanish taxpayers check the box to allow the church this 0.7% of their taxes? The latest figure I have is about 33%.

Since the end of the Franco era Spain has moved toward separation of church and state faster than any country in Europe. Divorce was legalized in 1981. Abortion is legal. Unfortunately, there has not been enough time to separate church and state in tax-supported education.

By the way, Spanish psychologist Pepe Rodriguez published major books in 1995 and 2002 thoroughly exploring the scandal of clergy sexual abuse of minors, books that I have reviewed in several journals in the US.

In my various sojourns in Spain beginning in 1981 I have found the country to be fascinating. I particularly its bookstores, where one can find more books by Woody Allen (in Spanish) than in a US bookstore.

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