The Political Rain in Spain
Things are getting interesting in Spain, where the second-ranking political leader has threatened reprisals against the Catholic Church because the bishops recently issued guidelines for voters. José Blanco is the President of the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers Party, second in command to the Prime Minister. He has vowed to eliminate government funding and other “privileges” for the Church, preventing bishops from celebrating state funerals, and abolishing the military ordinariate.
The trouble began back on December 30th when Catholic activists organized a pro-family rally in Madrid which drew nearly two million persons. Though the bishops did not organize the rally, they did support it. They also said that it was to be construed not as a partisan demonstration but as an affirmation of the traditional (Catholic) view of the family. A few days after the rally, Blanco protested the Church’s involvement, stating: “I had the impression that it was a Popular Party rally run by cardinals.” Perhaps that's why the official government estimate of the crowd was 160,000, a mere ten percent of independent estimates. In any case, the Popular Party is challenging the Socialist party in parliamentary elections next month.
In preparation for the elections, the bishops issued guidelines for voters in which they both upheld the constitutional right of citizens to affiliate with the party of their choice and counseled that Catholics should not vote for political parties that advocate abortion or same-sex marriage. The guidelines also mentioned the problem of negotiation with Basque terrorists. All three issues are clearly identified with the incumbent Socialist government.
As a result of the guidelines, Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos reported that Spain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Francisco Vazquez, had entered a formal protest, expressing his “perplexity and surprise” that the Spanish bishops should engage in the partisan political activity of attempting to instruct Catholics on the morality of voting. When no apology was forthcoming, Blanco began threatening the Church.
To understand the Spanish situation, it is important to realize that secularism means different things to different people in different places. In the United States, for example, the secularity of the public order has traditionally meant that there should be a separation of Church and State. In Europe, secularism tends to mean the complete separation of religion and politics. In recent years, even American politics has been tainted by the European view, which reduces persons who are motivated by religious convictions to second class citizens.
It is patently unreasonable for anyone to expect the Catholic Church to refrain from moral discourse about politics. Far from being perceived as a threat, moral argument about politics should be welcomed from any quarter as a positive contribution to public life. It is those who refuse the value of such discourse who thereby impoverish the public order. In fact, they impoverish it precisely by reducing everything to the very partisanship they claim to disdain.
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