It's been a complicated week, in my life as well as in Spain's. We just got back to Carboneras and my home Internet connection on Wednesday, after 2 very busy weeks in Madrid. And meanwhile, the hierarchs of the Spanish Catholic Church launched a surprise offensive on the Socialist government, which has gone to great lengths to appease them. Excessive lengths, in my opinion. The State still subsidizes the Church, and pays the salaries of military chaplains and religion teachers in public schools who are hired and fired by the bishops. And despite all this, at a huge rally in Madrid the day before New Year's Eve, supposedly to defend "the family," Cardinal Agustín García-Gasco thundered that "Radical laicism [i.e., the threatened separation of Church and State] is leading to the dissolution of democracy!"
Democracy? What does the all-male dominated, vertically commanded Church with its infallible pope know about democracy? This cluster of cardinals is taking a stand to the right of Pope Benedict, and openly siding with the conservative Popular Party. But rather than take pot-shots at purple-clad targets, I want to investigate these serious social questions:
What is causing this sudden ecclesiastic politicization? An upcoming election within the Church for control of the Bishops Conference is one vector, intersecting with the also proximate national elections (announced for March) for civil authorities, but mere coincidence (or contemporaneity) doesn't explain what is making certain cardinals so belligerent.
A second question is: How serious is all this going to be politically? Do the cardinals really control very many votes in contemporary Spain?
And we must also ask what it is about "laicism", homosexual unions and abortion that gets Spanish clergy so much more outraged than their counterparts in other European countries. Of even whether those are the real issues, or rather the public relations front to cover a more serious fear of the Spanish clergy: the threatened loss of their privileged institutional status and financing in a Church-State concordat still in effect since the Franco years.
I don't promise to answer all these questions, but simply to reframe them as hypotheses that can be proven or disproven. They are important for understanding Spain, and Spain is important for understanding the world.