Friday, July 07, 2006

Espana in turmoil

The Church-state debate | Sur

Perhaps the biggest of these issues is the new education law that makes the teaching of religion in Spanish state schools non-obligatory. Curiously, teachers of religion in Spanish state schools have traditionally been hired by the Church, and mostly paid by the state. This is clearly a means by which the Church can exercise control over who can and cannot teach religion in schools, and the Church would dearly love to hold onto this right. On the other side is the state, which, especially under Socialist government control, sees itself as having the right to appoint all teachers in state schools. The issue is, quite simply, a pot waiting to boil over. As one senior Churchman says: “The educational system is one of the worst things that is happening to Spanish society.”

The Minister for Justice, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, believes that the present financing system is unsustainable, and has initiated a revision of the 2007 budget aimed at “adjusting and updating” the system, as he puts it. The perfect system would clearly be self-supporting, but this is a long way down the line for the Spanish Church. The bishops are demanding an increase in the percentage of income tax that can be designated to the Church (from 0.52 to 0.80 per cent), but agreement on this has still not been reached. Involved in the negotiations are the director of Religious Affairs Mercedes Rico, and the manager of the Episcopal Conference (the highest Church body in the land), Fernando Giménez Barriocanal. Last week, in a seminar on ‘Laity as the road to liberty’, the most radical sectors of the PSOE party spoke out against the privileges of the Spanish Church, proposing greater neutrality on the part of the state with regard to Church financing.

During the most difficult moments of the negotiations with the Church representatives, the vice-president of the Government, María Teresa Fernández, used the threat of partial withdrawal of government support for the Church as a weapon. She had taken over direct control of Church/state relations on assuming office, and made an unexpected visit to the Vatican on 12 November 2005 to complain in person to Cardinal Angelo Sodano about the treatment her government was receiving from the Church-owned radio station in Spain, La Cope.

Forget about gay marriage or all the biological issues (sex change on the government dime, invitro, etc.). It comes down to who gets to teach what and who gets how many euros.

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