Spain’s Catholic bishops are warning of a return to a “totalitarian dictatorship” after the country’s new left-wing government announced plans last week to further reduce the Church’s privileges and reform State-sponsored Catholic education. “With their usual liberticide they interfere with our freedom”, thundered the archbishop of Oviedo, Jesús Sanz Montes, in Twitter. “They’re scared that the truth will really make us free, so they want to control it, turfing parents out of their children’s education and imposing a State-sponsored ethic”.
Education Minister Isabel Celaá announced last week that the Socialist Government, in power since June, would modify the law that sees the amount of State funding of Catholic schools established by the number of parents who seek Church education for their children. This criterion of “social demand”, lamented Celaá, has become nothing more than a “euphemism” that has served “in some cases” to undermine the prestige, and funding, of public schools. “The public schools network will take precedence and Catholic schools will supplement” the country’s schooling needs, said the minister. Celaá added that the Government will initiate a “dialog” with Catholic schools that separate boys and girls – a practice “that contravenes the general principles of inclusive education” – and will add to the curriculum a new and compulsory subject on “civic and ethical values”, while at the same time ensuring that the mark students obtain in the subject of religion no longer counts towards their overall grade.
“Children belong to their parents before they belong to the State”
These plans of the Government to reform the Catholic education system – a scheme which received nearly 6 billion euros in government funding in 2015 – have raised the ire of bishops like Jesús Sanz. “Excuse me, Minister. Do you remember the Spanish Constitution, articles 16 and 27?”, wrote the Bishop of Córdoba, Demetrio Fernández, in Twitter, making reference to the constitutional clauses that oblige the Spanish state to “take into consideration” the religious beliefs of the Spanish people and to guarantee the right of parents to choose for their children the “moral and religious education” they see fit. “Children belong to their parents before they belong to the State”, continued Fernández. “Parents choose their children’s education; the State guarantees and provides it. Subsidiarity corresponds to the State, not to parents. Or will you suppress this freedom?”.
The Spanish Bishops’ Conference as a whole, meanwhile, said in a press release that “the subject of religion should have a place within our educational system”, since the material is “necessary for a well-rounded education, if chosen by parents, and it mustn’t be substituted by a State-sponsored ethics imposed by the powers that be”. The president of the bishops’ education commission, Bishop César Franco of Segovia, went into more detail and explained his misgivings over the new “civic and ethical values” subject, the creation of which is “a way of saying: we’re the ones who are to going to educate children with something obligatory. The words say a lot, because what do we understand today by ‘ethics’? Who is going to impart this material? There’s discrimination here”, the prelate warned.