Spain moves between extremes like almost no other European country: Catholicism is still a solid element of everyday Spanish life but in spite of this there have been numerous conflicts over the last few years between the Church and the socialist government.
Spain's religious landscape has changed considerably over the last few decades in the institutional sphere and in the everyday life of the people. The main causes for this lie in an intensive process of modernisation – accompanied by a democratisation process – and in increasing immigration.
Despite these changes, certain aspects of the religious picture and the veneration of saints remain unchanged in Spain.
Traditional festivals and popular belief
Friedrich Schiller, Martin Heidegger and Emile Durkheim connected religion with joy and with celebration. The European anthem, which is based on music by Beethoven and, originally, Schiller's "Ode to Joy”, takes up this joy and spark of God.
In Spain, the bright and joyful spark of God in the fiesta and popular religious tradition is still very much alive. Despite the great differences between the villages, towns and countryside which make up Spain, the various fiestas and popular traditions strengthen relationships between the people and bring them closer together. The fiesta societies – such as the Fallas in Valencia, the Peńas de San Fermín in Navarra or the Andalusian Hermandades y Cofradías, form societies whose emphasis is on the coming together of families, friends, neighbours and guests in celebration. The central activities of these societies are: conversation (tertulia), play, humour, eating and drinking and shared voluntary work.
Veneration of saints and renewal of tradition
Burning figureSatirical figure from paper-mâché (Falla) burns during the traditional Fallas festival in Valencia. Fire and combustion are considered as a symbolic purification.
Society is continually renewing the traditions of the festivals: new elements mingle with the traditional forms of gathering centred on squares and streets. The new elements often originate from a globalised world. They enrich and modernise tradition. Today, many societies combine community experience and symbols from various periods into their collective memory and so unite old and new forms of representation of the saints: modern pyrotechnics enrich the fire cult in Valencia. The running of the bulls mixes with the Catholic tradition of San Fermín, the festival gathering of Pamplona.
Community celebrations and religious traditions take over streets and squares and contribute to a crossover between society, the holy and the various saintly figures of Spanish belief. It is not only the symbols which cross over but also the various social groups and institutions: opportunities for social integration and social cohesion arise from this community life.
The fiesta and the decline of the sacred
Migrants and particularly Europeans who settle in Spain value the Spanish fiestas. In spite of this, philosophers such as Martin Heidegger have lamented the decline and neglect of the sacred in the West. In these times of uncertainty and globalised capitalism the "Fiesta Mayor” gives many people something to hold on to, especially as it strengthens community and togetherness. Nevertheless, this holding on to traditional festivities and popular religion stands in open contradiction of the progress of secularisation and the decline of belief and religious practice within Catholicism.
Social secularisation movement
Relations between the Catholic Church and the state have always been very close in Spain. Nevertheless, as early as the second half of the 18th century the first signs of a secularisation process were beginning to appear in Spain: enlightenment and liberalism contributed to this. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century various social movements sprang up in Spain, some of which were strongly anti-clerical and along with liberalism moved to more clearly laical positions. These social, republican, democratic, socialist, communist and anarchist movements in the end contributed to the gradual separation between the Catholic Church and the State. In this period, characterised by several civil wars , two republican regimes arise (1868-1873 and 1931-1939): they consolidate the separation of Church and State in the constitution.
Francism and the democratisation process
Later, the Catholic Church supported and legitimised the Franco regime (1939-1975). The attendant historical reversal of development can be described as a backwards step in the process of secularisation. From 1962 to 1965 the Second Vatican Council took place: its goal was to contribute towards the modernisation of the Catholic Church; amongst other things, ecumenicalism, religious freedom and the role, life and training of priests were discussed. The ripples from this Council eventually reached even Spain and contributed to the process of opening up and democratising the country. In the question of religion a difficult agreement was eventually reached: they would no longer aim for separation of Church and State. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church was a special focus and enjoyed special consideration in the constitution. Article 16 of the constitution of 1978 declared:
Freedom of ideology, religion and worship is guaranteed, to individuals and communities with no other restriction on their expression than may be necessary to maintain public order as protected by law.
No one may be compelled to make statements regarding his or her ideology, religion or beliefs.
There is no state religion. The public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and shall consequently maintain appropriate cooperative relations with the Catholic Church and other denominations.
The 1979 concordat between Spain and the Vatican is currently in effect. Ambiguities and concessions to the Catholic Church make this contradictory.
Over the past three democratic decades the secularisation process has become more intense both on an institutional level as well as in the everyday lives of the people.
A survey by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas in April 2008 showed that: 76.7 percent of Spanish people would today describe themselves as Catholic, although only 15.3 percent of Spanish people regularly attend church or go to mass. These figures show that the tendency towards secularisation which has existed since the 1960's has increased.
Liberal and democratic tradition
The process of secularisation was already clearly recognisable by the end of the eighteenth century. The depth, influence and continuity of Spain's liberal and democratic tradition are particularly important in trying to understand the values connected with the ideals of tolerance and religious freedom. They bore fruit very early in Spain and had an impact on political and social institutions. Seen in this light, it becomes clear why Spain in particular was one of the first countries in the world to introduce women's rights and why the divorce law of the second republic (1931 – 1936) was one of the most progressive ever passed. It was the foundation for today's law on same sex marriage, which has recently lead to conflict between the government and the Catholic Church.
New tensions and civil rights
Same-sex marriage Demonstration against the legalisation of same-sex marriage, Madrid 2005. The banners say: 'Marriage is man and woman'.
Despite the democratisation process and the increasing plurality of denominations – fuelled by immigration and globalisation – the Catholic Church today is still a powerful interest group; it wishes to defend its institutional interests in connection with its buildings and its educational, social, cultural and health-care policy related heritage. Although it is largely funded by the IRPF (Impuesto sobre la Renta de las Personas Físicas – Spanish income tax), the Catholic Church has nevertheless positioned itself in opposition to the present government on a number of issues. In the area of civil rights, it is fighting the new marriage law which allows same sex marriage. In education – an area in which the Church has an especially strong influence due to its leading role in private schools – it positioned itself against the new school subject of "citizenship”. It is in competition with Catholic religious education and is described by the Church as "laical ideology”. In the area of health, too, its social influence in certain departments of some hospitals (gynaecology, obstetrics etc.) has made it more difficult to apply current abortion law. This is because some of the medical staff has refused to perform abortions, citing a "right of refusal on grounds of conscience”. In some parts of Spain, in which the influence of the Catholic Church is especially strong, Spanish women who have a legal right to abortion in Seguridad Social treatment centres, must travel to another town or even abroad in order to be allowed to undergo an abortion.