CULTURE SPAIN: VISIT OF THE POPE TO SPAIN
You may ask what on earth is this is all about? After all, is Spain not a bulwark of Catholicism?
Well, in fact, Spain is far from being a ‘bulwark’ of Catholicism. Its post General Franco constitution (formulated in 1978) made certain that Spain was a secular state, meaning that Spain does not have a ‘State’ religion.
That is not to say that most Spaniards are not Catholics – they are. However, they are Catholics in much the same way that most Britons are Anglicans. In other words, both populations have a ‘default’ religion but neither population really practises it in great numbers. Indeed, evidently, only some 14% of Spaniards regularly attend mass.
The striking thing about Catholicism in Spain, for me, is summed up by a fact stated in Anthony Beevor’s book on the Spanish Civil War. He states that (amazingly) in 1900 there were less church-going people per capita in Spain – than any other European country of the time!
I think there were good reasons for this and they can be seen in almost any pueblo in Spain. Go to to some desperately poor inland village and there you will still see, inevitably, a church – the biggest and grandest building by far. Given the sustained poverty of Spain, over hundreds of years, this must have rankled.
Indeed, it obviously did more than just rankle, as was shown during the Spanish Civil War – during which over 4,000 Catholic clergy were killed (mostly by the Republican side and its bewildering different factions). Part of the reason for this was that the Catholic church was almost completely partisan during the Spanish Civil War and supported the Nationalists under General Franco. There were no suprises here for most Spaniards, as the church had long been considered part of the State apparatus and had, historically, invariably sided with the monarch, landowners and ‘authority’.
General Franco, of course, was a deeply religious man – and certainly owed a debt to the Catholic church for its support for him during the Spanish Civil War. So, once in power, he re-asserted Catholism, across Spain, in no uncertain terms. Indeed, I have been told by the village elders of my pueblo that if you did not attend church on Sunday then you were called to account before the Ayuntamiento (the town hall) first thing on Monday morning…
So, is it is any surprise that there has been ‘aggressive securalism’ in Spain since the death of General Franco in 1975? Of course not!
In fact, to me, the Pope’s visit to Spain just shows how non-religious Spain is. I think that any aggression to the Catholic church has actually long gone. Now, I think, Spaniards are far from ‘aggressive’ in their securalism. On the contrary, I think they simply do not greatly care – within a society that has turbo-charged its way to 21st century liberalism. Same sex marriages are allowed, ditto abortions and divorces (not allowed until 1981!) are easy and very quick to obtain. Indeed, legislation has made Spain, to its credit, one of the most liberal countries in the world.
Of course, on the face of it, you may think that Spaniards are still religious because of the importance placed by families on their children celebrating First Communion ceremonies. Or you may be tricked into thinking Spain is ‘religious’ when you attend fiestas and see effigies carried around villages followed by everyone in the pueblo. However, the truth is that these matters must be taken at no more than ‘face value’.
Is the visit of the Pope Bendict XVI to Spain a good thing and does ‘aggressive securalism’ matter? Frankly, I think neither is of importance to the average Spaniard. At the moment, he (or she) is probably too busy trying to survive the economic ‘crisis’ to give much thought to either matter…
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