With the exception of the small numbers adhering to minority religions, the predominant affiliation of Spaniards has for centuries been to Roman Catholicism, so much so that it has come to be seen almost as a mark of national identity. It was certainly regarded in this way in the late Middle Ages, when the long-standing, but uneasy coexistence of Christian, Muslim and Jew was finally shattered with the imposition of religious unifor-mity under the "Catholic Monarchs", Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1492. The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century largely passed Spain by, and departure from strict orthodoxy, particularly if this involved public profession of other religions, was treated until the late nineteenth century virtually as a public order issue. The experience of George Borrow, whose much-reprinted volume The Bible in Spain records his work on behalf of the British and Foreign Bible Society in the 1840s, is eloquent testimony of this. The net effect was not only that "religion" was defined as co-terminous with Roman Catholicism, but also that those unable to accept the doctrinal framework of Catholicism found themselves labelled as unpatriotic or anti-Spanish. This made it virtually impossible to gain a hearing for a multidenominational, pluralist concept of Spanishness, and rejection of Catholicism, in the absence of other religious alternatives, led logically to agnosti-cism or atheism. Religion, as embodied in the Roman Catholic church, came to appear as the principal obstacle to political modernization, particularly since the church aligned itself, until the 1960s, with conservative regimes and property-owning élites. Inevitably, therefore, the public manifestations of religion attracted deep hostility, both from the state, during the Second Republic, and from outbursts of popular anger, as illustrated by the burning of churches and religious buildings in the early 1930s, and the executions of priests and members of religious orders by Republican militias during the Civil War.
   The logical outcome of this situation was that the church, with the exception of sections of the Basque clergy, threw its support behind the Francoist insurgents at the outset of the war. The insurgents in turn were thereby enabled to present themselves as the champions of religion and true Spanishness, and to characterize defenders of the Republic as hellbent on imposing alien ideologies such as democracy and secularism. The victory of the Francoist forces compounded this symbiosis of religion and reactionary politics. Though as a young man Franco was not particularly pious, he saw considerable political advantages in identifying unambiguously with Catholicism, and he rewarded the Church for its role in legitimizing his armed insurrection and the authoritarian style of government to which it gave rise, by according it a privileged position as an institution of the state. Franco retained the power to nominate bishops, and the state supported the salaries of the clergy; the church, for its part, gained control of education, and the civil and criminal law reflected Catholic discipline in matters of marriage, divorce and private morality (see also National Catholicism).
   This essentially political process was distinct from, and to some extent independent of religion as personal conviction, and, combined with the identification of religious affiliation with nationality mentioned above, it has had the effect of distorting the statistical evidence of religious belief. In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, open profession of atheism, or even nonattendance at religious services, was at best disadvantageous in terms of employment prospects or eligibility for social benefit, and at worst dangerous. Though there was undoubtedly a genuine national upsurge of Catholic fervour after the war, there were strong incentives to make a token profession of loyalty to the state religion, whatever one's private views. In addition, however, the importance of Catholicism as a sociocultural force cannot be overestimated. Even in the 1960s, when atheism could be confessed more openly, it was not unknown for non-believers to insist on their children being baptized. Even in the 1990s, the figures for those describing themselves as Catholic were considerably higher than for actual church attendance. A survey carried out by the Episcopal Conference in 1995 showed that although 90 percent of the respondents declared themselves to be Catholic, 45 percent never or hardly ever attended mass, and only 30 percent attended with moderate regularity.
   This is only one of several respects in which the situation of religion in Spain has become more complex since at least the 1950s. However close the symbiosis between the church and any particular political system, the church always reserves the right to pursue its own mission independently. In the aftermath of WWII, when communist participation in the struggles against fascism and nazism had garnered considerable prestige and support for communism among the industrial working classes, the Roman Catholic hierarchy worldwide, and especially in Europe, mounted a drive to "re-Christianize" the workplace by creating Catholic workers" organizations. In Spain, these emerged as the HOAC (Hermandades Obreras de Action Católica—Workers" Catholic Action Brotherhoods) and JOC (Juventud Obrera Católica—Catholic Worker's Youth Organization). These bodies strove to articulate and defend Catholic teaching on social justice, which in time brought them into conflict with the regime, and, ultimately, with the hierarchy, which by the late 1960s was steadily reducing the scope of their activities.
   Curtailment of the activities of HOAC and JOC ran counter, however, to the new insights on social and political rights which emerged from the Second Vatican Council (1962–5), a synod of all the bishops worldwide. Documents issued by the Council, such as the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, raised serious questions about how far the actions of repressive regimes, however much they professed to be Catholic, were compatible with the teachings of Christianity. It is, indeed, from the years following the Council that we may date the growing distancing of the church from the Franco regime. Though the Spanish bishops took a characteristically conservative line during the Council's deliberations, they showed some capacity to assimilate the new climate of openness and to re-examine traditional positions. At the end of the last Council session, in December 1965, they issued a statement expressing regret at the way in which they had been lulled into complacency by the protection of the state.
   Many of the younger clergy wished to move further and faster than their leaders, and became increasingly radicalized, supporting workers" demands from the pulpit, and some even joining the communist-led CC OO. A survey carried out in 1970 showed that nearly half the diocesan clergy described themselves as socialists. Liberal bishops began to criticize the regime explicitly in pastoral letters and other public statements, with the result that the repressive machinery of the state came to be used against the church. The encyclical letters of Pope John XXIII, in which he had endorsed, among other things, free and democratic trade unions, were censored in Spain. A special prison for priests was set up in Zamora in the late 1960s, and in 1974 Bishop Añoveros of Bilbao was briefly placed under house arrest.
   By the end of the Franco regime, the institutional status which the church had enjoyed had long since ceased to be sustainable, and the church was ready to embrace democracy, not only for reasons of expediency, but also as a result of the increased emphasis, in theological discussion after Vatican II, on the centrality of freedom as an element of religious commitment. The articulation of the church's mission in the changed conditions of society after 1975 fell largely to one of its most able and liberal figures, Cardinal Vicente Enrique y Tarancón, who, while defending traditional church teaching on divorce and religious education, nevertheless committed himself publicly to the consolidation of democracy, to acceptance of pluralism, and to the principle of mutual recognition of the autonomy of church and state. This was a laudable attempt to normalize relations in a way appropriate to a democratic polity, but in any case there was little else the church could do, since the increasing secularization of Spanish society, in common with societies elsewhere, had considerably diminished the influence which religion exercised on people's lives. It is true that some generalizations about the classic urban/rural religious divide do not apply in Spain to the same extent as elsewhere. Catholicism remains strong in the industrialized north, especially in the Basque country. Conversely, rural Andalusia has a long tradition of anti-clericalism. Nevertheless, the well-established patterns of migration to the cities, together with increased affluence, foreign travel, and the impact of inward tourism have led to a decline in active church membership, as measured by mass attendance. The other significant indicator is the decline in numbers entering the priesthood and religious orders. During the first two decades of the Franco period, the numbers entering the ministry were exceptionally high, and the decline in vocations was correspondingly greater when secularism began to make inroads into the traditional religious culture. In 1961, there were 825 ordinations to the priesthood; this figure had declined to 395 by 1972, and declined further to 163 in 1981. The 1995 survey quoted above showed that the shortage of clergy had become acute: the church could not provide a diocesan priest for every parish. There were 22,000 parishes, but only 20,000 priests, though there were a further 20,000 members of male religious orders, a substantial proportion of them ordained, and some of these could be called upon to help out in parish ministry from time to time. Only 1,950 seminarists were preparing for ordination, which includes students in all years of the (normally) seven-year training, and many of those would leave before completing the course. The average age of clergy was 57 and rising. Numbers of female religious, at 70,000, were substantial, but this had little impact on pastoral needs. It is also noteworthy that Spain had, in the 1980s, one of the highest rates of application from those seeking to leave the priesthood because of the celibacy rule. In the first ten years of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II (1978–88), 8 percent of the applications worldwide for release from vows (500 out of 6,000) originated in Spain. This figure has gone down markedly, reflecting the church's turn to the right during this pontificate, which has put a decisive damper on liberalizing tendencies, not least in Spain. Spain, therefore, has witnessed something comparable to the secularization which has occurred elsewhere, but it must be recognized that the point from which the decline in religion started was different from that which existed in other countries. The influence of the Roman Catholic church remained stronger in Spain, and lasted until a later date, than almost anywhere else on the globe, except Ireland, Malta and some countries in Latin America. Although the degree of secularization has been correspondingly greater, the fact remains that, despite the diminution in the importance of the church as an institution, the cultural influence of Catholicism, especially among middle-class parents, is strong. The opposition of conservative lay people to the educational reforms of the LODE and the LOGSE, plus the proposal by the centre-right PP government elected in 1996 to re-introduce religion to the school curriculum as an assessable subject, suggest that, whatever the level of individual belief and commitment, religion as a socio-cultural force still retains a certain power.
   Further reading
   - Carr, R. and Fusi, J.P. (1979) Spain: Dictatorship to Democracy, London: Allen & Unwin (pp. 28– 31 provide a succinct summary of the influence of the church under Franco).
   - González Blasco, P. and González-Anleo, J. (1992) Religión y sociedad en la España de los 90, Madrid: Fundación Santa María (the most up-to-date overview of Spanish attitudes towards religion).
   - Grugel, J. and Rees, T. (1997) Franco's Spain, London: Arnold (well indexed, which makes it easy to trace the various references to the situation of the church).
   - Lannon, F. (1987) Privilege, Persecution and Prophecy: The Catholic Church in Spain, 1875-1975, Oxford: Oxford University Press (a classic study of the cultural and political significance of the church).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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