THE Catholic Church in Spain is heading for a showdown with Prime Minister JosÃ© Luis RodrÃguez Zapatero’s socialist government over a new course introduced in schools for 12- to 14-year-olds.
But the curriculum has become the latest battleground in a raging war between Spain’s leftist government and a Roman Catholic Church that is rapidly losing ground in that country.
Church officials and conservative social activists are trying to have the mandatory courses scrapped, contending that the curriculum promotes ideas that go against church teachings. Among those is acceptance of homosexuals and, by implication, same-sex marriage, which the government legalised three years ago.
Last night, BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight programme reported that opinion polls in Spain clearly show that, for most young Spaniards, Catholicism plays little or no part in their lives. You can hear it in full here.
Said reporter Steve Kingston:
Conservatives in the church accuse the government of deliberately encouraging this trend, and that the citizen classes are further evidence of an alleged push by Prime Minister to secularise Spanish society.
Last year, ahead of the introduction of the lessons, Sister Maria Rosa de la Cierva, a nun who is the church’s liaison to the Education Ministry, was quoted as saying:
This is a frontal assault on the Catholic religion. This is an authentic scholastic war â€¦ and part of a clear persecution, little by little, of the Catholic faith.
At the beginning of the year, an angry Prime Minister Zapatero hit back at the church, saying that the Spanish Constitution ensured that there was room for everybody in Spain, that everybody has the right to have rights, whatever they think, and whether they belong to a religion or not.
Most encouraging part of last night’s broadcast were the opinions voiced by a group of around eight Madrid youngsters, all but one of whom admitted to being Catholic. One vociferously declared:
I do not believe in God.
Education is only the latest squabble driving a wedge between the church and the state in Spain.
I don’t believe the Catholic Church is relevant today to young people â€¦ It disapproves of the use of condoms for young people.
According to this report, church officials, a so-called pro-family conservative lobby and rightist opposition politicians have reacted with horror to the government’s liberalisation of abortion and divorce laws, its reduction of state funding for churches and its efforts to better separate church and state.
At the heart of the conflict is a Vatican-backed effort by Spanish conservatives to restore traditional Catholicism to a place of importance in public life – and to recapture the power and influence that go with that.
The Socialist government, however, sees the promotion of secular values and its socially liberal agenda as essential to the nation’s modernisation, especially in today’s fast-changing, multicultural Spain.
Modern Spanish history is replete with the ups and downs of tumultuous relations between the church and state. As the renowned Basque writer Pio Baroja once put it:
Spaniards through the ages have followed their priests – either with candles, or with clubs.
Under Franco, Catholic instruction became compulsory in school. To this day, under a treaty that Franco signed with the Holy See, Spain is obliged to offer Catholic instruction in all public schools.
With the citizenship curriculum introduced this term, that arrangement raises the possibility of contradictory lessons. A pupil could be instructed in the beliefs of the Catholic Church in one schoolroom, then hear opposite arguments in another.
Education Ministry officials say that teaching about citizenship and laws, and all that goes with it, including tolerance for minorities, is essential in a Spain that is no longer homogenous. The number of children of immigrant parents in Spain’s pre-university school population, officials point out, has grown nearly tenfold in the last decade.
Alejandro Tiana, secretary-general of the ministry, said in an interview:
The reality of Spain today is that students are coming from different kinds of families. The education system should teach the importance of fighting discrimination and avoiding homophobia.
But opponents contend that the government is using the courses to impose its own beliefs. By refusing to establish marriage between man and woman as the only acceptable form, for example, the instruction creates a kind of “relativism” in which there are no rules or absolute truths, the critics maintain.
If you can’t tell good from bad, then you can’t be a good citizen.
The new curriculum, he said, “makes a moral code of what the government of the moment wants.”