ROME — Despite some serious legislative and social differences that have led the Catholic Church and the Spanish government to bump heads, the country has a “healthy secularism,” said Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid.
The Madrid cardinal, vice president of the Spanish bishops’ conference, said the legalization of euthanasia March 18 and other recent measures in conflict with the teaching of the Catholic Church do not threaten the relationship between the church and the state.
“It is true that there are people — including some politicians — who want to muddy this relationship and that there are issues on which we cannot agree, but I believe that in Spain there is a healthy secularism,” Osoro told Catholic News Service March 24.
“Thank God, I believe that most public representatives understand that faith is important for many citizens and that, as a church, we are an important protagonist in society,” he said. “They treat us with respect and maintain a cooperative relationship with us. This has been clear in the pandemic.”
The passage of the euthanasia law was the latest in a series of measures supported by the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, his Socialist party and the far-left Podemos party that has placed the once-influential Catholic Church and the Spanish state at odds.
According to Vatican statistics, about 93 percent of Spain’s population has been baptized Catholic.
But a 2019 survey by Spanish polling website Metroscopia said 87 percent of Spaniards polled were in favor of legalizing euthanasia. Furthermore, the survey said that 59 percent of those in favor identified themselves as practicing Catholics.
Some observers have said a diminished understanding of Catholic teaching is the result of rising secularization in Spain and increased divisions along ideological lines among Catholics. Others believe the church must return to its roots and focus on Christ’s message of love rather than giving into a strict approach toward understanding its teachings.
Osoro told CNS that the passing of the euthanasia law was tragic given that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted “the urgency of moving from a paradigm of one’s own well-being to a paradigm of care” for others.
“We are caregivers of others and it is tragic that (the government) has put faith in euthanasia, in death instead of life, while pending issues such as palliative care or help for addictions have not been addressed,” the Spanish cardinal said.
“The church regrets that the law was passed amid a pandemic, in a quick manner and without consulting experts,” he added. “We will continue to remind others of the sacred value of every life, even if it costs us attacks or rebukes.”
The memory of how the Catholic Church had a mutually beneficial relationship with the nationalist dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, who ruled from 1939 until his death in 1975, has been cited by some local and national politicians as a justification for measures that have angered Catholics in the country.
Catholics in Aguilar de la Frontera, near Cordoba, protested in February after the town’s mayor, Carmen Flores, a member of the left-wing political coalition Izquierda Unida (United Left), ordered the demolition of a cross outside the town’s Carmelite convent.
The cross, installed in 1938, was trucked to a landfill Jan. 19, after Flores argued it violated Spain’s 2007 Law on Historical Memory, which prohibits symbols deemed to praise Franco’s 36-year rule.
The Association of Christian Lawyers, an organization independent from the Catholic Church, launched petitions and lawsuits against the removal of the cross in Aguilar de la Frontera, as well as in Spain’s western Extremadura region, where at least 34 municipalities were ordered to remove crosses from streets and parks.
For Osoro, the order to remove crosses had more to do with the fact that “the cross is a symbol that one can be bothered by.”
“The cross forces us to question our lifestyles in a secularized and individualistic society such as ours, in which we look more to selfish gain than to others, and sometimes even take advantage of others,” the cardinal told CNS.
Spain’s bishops also found themselves on the defensive this year after the government accused the church of improperly claiming ownership of thousands of buildings and parcels of land.
The government gave the church until 2023 to provide proof of ownership of nonreligious assets, including residential buildings, garages, farms and vineyards. Some politicians urged the government to cancel the church’s ownership claims outright and require the reregistration of all assets.
Osoro said the Catholic Church has been transparent in informing the public of its property and assets, adding that his own archdiocese created a public website detailing its revenue and spending — www.transparencia.archimadrid.es.
The church’s acquisition of nonreligious property, he said, “has always been made in accordance with the legislation of the time, and the assets are goods at the service of the faithful and of society in general.”
Osoro told CNS that even when differences seem to increase, there is not a rupture between the church and the state.
Spain’s constitution, he noted, guarantees that “public authorities will take the religious beliefs of Spanish society into account and maintain cooperation with the Catholic Church and other religious confessions.”
“Spain is a nonreligious state: neither a belligerent secular state nor a religious state,” he said.
“In a nondenominational state like ours,” Osoro said, “we can live our faith in its public dimension, and we are called to be involved — each one however he or she can — in building the common good, while always appealing for respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others, and a loving commitment to the welfare of all.”