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The Separation of Church and State in Spain

The Separation of Church and State is still an on-going issue within Spain, highlighted recently when Spain’s Interior minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz ordered a full enquiry, regarding a nun being ordered to remove her head gear when renewing her identity card last February in the town of Pozuelo de Alarcon (Madrid). This is standard procedure to ensure her face was visible for formal identification. However the minor incident reached the ears of the Archbishop and somehow the upper echelons of the Spanish interior ministry whereby Diaz a devout catholic and member of Opus Dei ordered a full investigation.

It was found that the police behaved in an appropriate manner. Opus Dei has been at the forefront of Spanish politics since the Franco regime and has been commonly linked to right wing governments and influential family’s in Spain. The Spanish public have reacted with surprise at the importance placed on the incident and control of religion over Spain’s political upper classes.

The special relationship between the Catholic Church and Spain started in AD 589 when King Recaredus proclaimed the religious and political unity of his kingdom at the council of Toledo. In the intervening years to present day the Catholic Church has played a special role within Spanish society, culture and law.

During Spain’s second Republic 1931-1936 anti-monarchism and anticlericalism took hold in the law with a clear hostility shown towards the Catholic Church, mandating radical separation between Church and State. However dissatisfaction with the government approach to church – state relations was one of the leading causes of the Spanish Civil War.

General Franco’s regime restored the Catholic Church as the established official religion of Spain in the concordat of 1953, gave the church privileged status as the official state religion and recognised its jurisdiction throughout Spain. It was not until the 1978 constitution which reformed the Spanish legal system and allowed the fundamental right of religious freedom. Although with almost 90% of the Spanish population being of the Catholic faith, the historical bond between Catholicism and Spain cannot be so easily overturned by laws alone.

Recently Pope Francis showed the special relationship between the Catholic Church and Spain by inviting Premier Mariano Rajoy as the first official European leader to meet with him at the Vatican. Talks focused on the current economic crisis in Spain with the role of the Church helping those in Spain through charities such as Cáritas.

In a statement from the Vatican the two "reaffirmed the need for a dialogue in society and between all its components, based on the institution of marriage and the family and the importance of a religious education". They also discussed “mutual respect and taking into account values including justice and solidarity in a search for the common good." The Vatican is also vehemently opposed to the Spanish law that allows same sex marriage, the adoption of children and right to inheritance in same sex marriages, passed under the previous socialist government of Jose Luis Zapatero, even though polls show 2/3 of Spaniards back same sex marriage.

The question remains as to how Spain can be truly democratic and independent when the Catholic Church is forever in the background and how can religious freedom be truly attained when the majority of those in power are staunchly Catholic and seem to have no reservation in using their power to enforce Catholic doctrine. 

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