Is Spain Returning to Catholic Government?

Church and State never fully separated in Spain and the two are drawing closer together. Should you be worried?

For decades, Europe has been getting less religious. Once-powerful organizations such as the Catholic Church have found themselves losing both members and influence as Europe grows more secular.

Many view this simply as the inexorable march of progress—mankind’s journey out of the darkness of superstition into the light of scientific inquiry. It is natural that Europe will keep traveling in this direction.

To the secular left, this “progress” can be seen where politics collides with religion. Across Europe, abortion is becoming easier. Homosexual “marriage” is spreading. Euthanasia is slowly becoming more common.

But in one country, that “progress” is being suddenly reversed. Spain is becoming the first country in the EU to re-illegalize abortion.

Those on the political left are angry and shocked. Their outrage goes beyond merely disagreeing with the proposed law: They are concerned that Spain has changed directions. That the nation is no longer heading down the road to liberal secularism, but returning to the way things used to be.

Spain’s proposed stance on abortion is rare; few other European countries are as strict. But the direction of travel is even rarer. There are many examples of nations legalizing things like abortion and homosexual “marriage”—but in the Western world, no other nation is making abortion more difficult while at the same time giving religion a more prominent place in national life.

Currently, a Spanish woman can have an abortion in any circumstance until the 14th week of her pregnancy—or longer if the unborn baby has any deformities. Under the new proposed law, an abortion will only be allowed in the case of rape, incest, if there is a serious risk to the physical or mental health of the mother, or if the fetus is so deformed that it could die shortly after being born. Girls younger than 18 would need their parents’ approval.

The government has a comfortable majority in the Spanish parliament, so the law is likely to pass within the next few months.

On its own, this is very good news. The Bible clearly teaches that abortion is murder.

However, there is a larger picture we must recognize. This is not an isolated incident. Spain has revived the role of the Catholic Church in the nation’s government and giving it a privileged place in the nation’s educational system. Spain only ceased to be a Catholic dictatorship, ruled by General Franco in 1975. It’s new government is far from Franco’s authoritarian regime, but it has begun returning the Catholic Church to the privileged position it had under Franco.

Catholicism in Spain

Calling General Franco’s Spain a Catholic dictatorship may sound a little provocative. It is not meant to be—many devout Catholics would agree. The Catholic Herald, one of Britain’s main Catholic news outlets, wrote, “Under General Franco’s 40-year dictatorship, church and state were intimately linked. Life was so strictly regimented that missing mass was frowned upon, while the dictatorship was openly supported by the church, which held a uniquely privileged position.”

Before World War ii, this was not unusual, especially in Europe and Latin America. But by refusing to get involved in World War ii, Spain survived longer than the other Catholic states—until Franco’s death in 1975. After that, Spain’s relationship with the Catholic Church changed to “It’s complicated.”

In many ways, Spain resembles any other Western democracy. It was one of the first European countries to legalize homosexual “marriage”—which was done with the support of around 70 percent of the population. At the same time, just over 70 percent of Spaniards claim to be Catholic. Many of these Catholics clearly don’t pay much attention to the beliefs of their mother church. In fact, only around 15 percent of Spaniards regularly attend mass.

Catholicism is no longer the state religion—at least on paper. But church and state are so intertwined, it’s still hard to say where one stops and the other begins.

Through direct aid, special tax treatment and the government paying the salaries of Catholic religious workers, the government gave the church over €11 billion (us$15 billion) in 2011, according to Europa Laica (Secular Europe), a Spanish campaign group. That may not sound like much, viewed in light of America’s vast economic spending. But Spain is in the midst of a dire economic crisis, with huge youth unemployment; yet it is handing the equivalent of 1 percent of its entire economic output to the Catholic Church.

When Spaniards fill in their tax returns, they can choose to have 0.7 percent of their income go to the Catholic Church instead of the tax man. If they don’t choose to do this, they don’t get to keep the 0.7 percent—the government keeps it. But even if they choose to have this money go to “social and charitable purposes” instead of the church, the government often hands that money to a Catholic charity. The church received over €240 million ($327 million) in 2011 this way.

The government subsidizes private Catholic schools by €4 billion ($5.4 billion). That’s almost a 10th of the Spanish government’s total education spending. It pays out nearly €2 billion to the Catholic Church for social and welfare work, pays for the church to have chaplains in hospitals, paid €700 million ($9.5 million) to help maintain assets owned by the Catholic Church and gave the church €300 million in grants and expenses for religious events.

Since Spain’s return to a democracy in the 1970s, this strong Catholic influence has been steadily shrinking. But in recent months, that trend has reversed. The crash brought Spain’s right wing Popular Party (PP) to power, a party closely allied with the Catholic Church.

In early 2013, the PP pushed through some highly contentious school reforms. The new law allows the government to continue to fund the Catholic Church’s private single-sex schools—something the previous government tried to stop. It also makes classes in religion compulsory. These classes are taught by teachers appointed by the local bishop, but the teacher is paid for by the state. It is Sunday school imported into the regular school day and funded by the government. Those who don’t want this Catholic education can take a non-religious ethics class, but this would be the exception—the choice of the rare, militant atheist.

Seventy percent of Spaniards opposed the pro-Catholic education law; only 27 percent supported it. The low level of support indicated that the law was a response “to the pressures that the hierarchy of the Spanish Catholic Church has on the current government rather than considerations of educational policy or academics,” wrote El Pais.

The new abortion law also has the strong support of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict xvi and and Pope Francis have both personally endorsed a change in the law.

What’s most important here is the direction of travel. These changes do not make Spain a Catholic dictatorship like they were under Franco. But they do mean far more church involvement in state affairs than there has been in recent years.

Is this a problem? Even non-Catholics would agree with much of what the Catholic Church is doing here. Abortion is bad. Most non-Catholics would probably also agree that more teaching about God and the Bible in schools is good, even if that education is coming from a Catholic-appointed teacher.

But even the very recent history of General Franco’s Spain warns of the danger of the Catholic Church gaining too much power.

The Church’s History

General Franco was Hitler-lite. He sat out World War ii and had no dramatic plan to wipe out every Jew on Earth. But he was an authoritarian dictator, locking up tens of thousands of his own people in concentration camps and prisons. Estimates of the numbers he killed vary—Leeds University puts it as “at least 130,000.” Other estimates are higher. The scale of the repression was so great that some have argued that it was “genocide” or even a “holocaust.”

And all this was done with the support of the Catholic Church. Under Franco there was no religious freedom. Catholic teaching in all schools was compulsory. No other churches or religions were allowed any legal status to own property or publish books, though this loosened up somewhat after the Vatican ii reforms in the early 1960s. Spanish money poured into the church. In return, Franco had veto power over the appointment of Spanish clergy and chose the bishops.

The Catholic Church has never issued any apology or shown any contrition for its support of Franco. “Rather than apologize for its complicity in human rights abuses, the church has adopted a strategy of confrontation and denial,” wrote Michael Phillips, Senior Lecturer in Law at the Center for Human Rights in Conflict, University of East London, in the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion.

Instead, in October the church beatified 522 catholic “martyrs” of the Spanish civil war. That war had some similarities to the one unfolding right now in Syria: There were no clear good guys; one side was backed by Hitler, the other Stalin; both sides committed atrocities. But the Catholic Church is (almost literally) making those on its side out to be saints, while refusing to even talk about, let alone apologize for, the crimes and atrocities that side committed. These are not the actions of a body that has learned from its mistakes and is determined not to repeat them.

A look back further in history gives an even starker warning. Any time any religion has had enough power to stamp out its competitions, it has almost always done so—from Charlemagne’s force conversion of the Saxons to modern Saudi Arabia’s much less violent refusal to allow Christianity to take root in its country.

The Bible also prophesies of a revival of a Catholic-dominated Europe. So much of the Bible’s prophecy about Europe—as explained by Herbert W. Armstrong and Gerald Flurry—has been fulfilled. The European Union has grown from a trading club to a common currency zone and is now being forced by the euro crisis into becoming a superstate. The nations of the eurozone are already coordinating their taxation and spending, and the crisis will soon force them to take this process even further.

But there is one major part of the Bible’s prophecies for Europe that we haven’t seen happen yet: the revival of the church’s role in Europe. In recent years, that influence had actually been receding, exacerbated by disasters like the child-abuse scandals that have rocked the church. The Vatican still has more power than many give it credit for, but it is far from being the master of Europe.

This is why Spain’s change in direction is so significant. In his book Daniel Unlocks Revelation, Mr. Flurry wrote that we need to watch for signs of the Catholic Church gaining power in Europe. What’s happening in Spain could be one of those signs.

That’s not certain. Spain’s proposed law could result in no real change. (For example, Britain also outlaws abortion unless it jeopardizes the mental or physical health of the mother; if a woman wants an abortion, the doctor simply signs a piece of paper saying that having the baby would harm the mother’s mental health. Spain’s law could be ignored just as easily.) But a major development the Trumpet is watching for is a rise in the political influence of the Catholic Church.

That rise will also probably be the next stage in Europe’s economic crisis. Unemployment is skyrocketing in Europe, and many people are losing faith in the whole democratic system. A Catholic alternative has never seemed so appealing. General Franco’s National Catholicism was designed to be a kind of third way—an alternative to capitalism and communism. It is an example of the type of Catholic feudal economic system that Andrew Miiller wrote about last month. Now that both capitalism and communism are seen to have failed, many are ready to give this third way another go.

Bible prophecy warns that we must keep watching Europe’s abortion laws and other indications of Catholic influence on power. In the same booklet, Mr. Flurry wrote, “We know from these prophecies that the Vatican will become very powerful and instigate some radical changes.” Time will tell if what is happening in Spain is at the start of these changes.”

“We need to watch the European Union for a man stepping in and seizing control of that entity through flatteries,” wrote Mr. Flurry. “He is going to hijack the EU. … I truly believe the Vatican will help bring that political leader on the scene, and that’s when we will really see the fireworks.”

That is the real danger behind Spain’s shift toward Catholicism: It could be the start of this European-wide shift.

To get a good background on the Catholic Church’s history in Europe, as well as what is prophesied to come, please read our free book Germany and the Holy Roman Empire.