Thursday, March 4, 2010


By David Eade

Spain’s highly controversial abortion law has been passed by the lower house of parliament – Congress – but it is still making its way through the Senate. However the Ley del Aborto has already opened up old wounds between the Catholic Church and the ruling socialist party.

First to the law itself. Under its provisions abortions would be available on demand for women of 16 and over up to the 14th week of pregnancy, and up to 22 weeks if there was a risk to the mother’s health or if the foetus was deformed. Women can also undergo the procedure after 22 weeks if the foetus had a serious or incurable illness.

However what has angered the Catholic community most and even some supporters of the PSOE government is the provision allowing girls of 16 to have an abortion without their parents’ consent or knowledge. Opinion polls have shown that 56 per cent of socialists who support the PSOE government are very unhappy over allowing 16 year olds to be able to have an abortion without their parents’ knowledge or consent against 64 per cent opposition across the board.

The protests against the new abortion law have been led by Hazte Oir – a coalition of Catholic organizations. In October over a million people gathered in the plaza de Independencia in Madrid to voice their opposition to the new law. This highly motivated Catholic opposition has been joined by the centre-right Partido Popular that has pledged to ask the Constitutional Court to overturn the abortion legislation when it is passed in to law.

Now we wind forward to the present and the opening up of old wounds. It has come about because of the decision by the Catholic Church hierarchy to ban a leading member of the PSOE ruling party from receiving communion. José Bono is a staunch Catholic but he is also president of the lower house of Spain’s parliament. In an interview with the daily newspaper, El Mundo, he voiced his support for the new law which he voted in favour of when it was approved by Congress in December.

Bono argued in the interview that he supported the new law because he understood that it would reduce the number of abortions and that, according to the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, “politicians can vote for laws governing abortion if they believe that they are reducing the evil it causes.”

However the Spanish Episcopal Conference has refuted this thesis. In a letter to El Mundo the bishops state that this Encyclical allows a Catholic to vote for an abortion law that reduces the injustice of the current legislation but the politician is obliged to vote against any law which does not adequately protect the inviolable right to life of those who are yet to be born.

The Catholic Church in Spain feels itself under attack by the very liberal PSOE administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero on numerous fronts including abortion, divorce, gay rights and education. In recent history the church was closely associated with the dictatorship of Franco and hence generations of distrust have grown up between it and those on the left of Spanish politics.

Indeed students of the Spanish Civil War will well remember the role played by the Catholic caucus in the USA in pressuring the president Franklin D Roosevelt from supporting the democratically elected government in Madrid. Catholic activists and writers also rubbished the press reports by Jay Allen on the Nationalist’s slaughter in Badajoz and George Steer’s accounts of the destruction of Guernica arguing they were communist inventions.

The vice secretary general of PSOE, José Blanco, waded in to the battle after the church barred Bono from receiving communion. He has accused the church of “hypocrisy” pointing out that it took no action against members of the former Partido Popular government of José María Aznar that introduced the present abortion law.

Bono accused the Catholic Church of “a permanent contradiction” because it didn’t deny communion “to members of the government of the right under who in our country there have been over 500,000 abortions.”

Thus the fight over the right to life of the unborn child has descended in to old animosities with socialists believing that the church favours its allies on the right above those on the left – even devout Catholics such as PSOE’s José Bono.
Interestingly the well-known Spanish socialist Luis Solana, who was instrumental in establishing democracy after Franco and then serving as an MP as well as heading the telecommunications giant Telefónica and State broadcaster RTVE, has been addressing this issue in recent days. He concedes that socialists who are also practising Catholics have experienced “many bitter times”.

Solana says that as far as the church is concerned the classic socialist is an agnostic. Hence those who follow both the Catholic and socialist creeds such as José Bono are not allowed for by the hierarchy and should says Solana – expect no charity in the treatment of their faith.

He added that a Catholic socialist had many problems in being accepted by the church. So much so that if a socialist politician votes in favour of the new abortion law then he will have insurmountable problems with the bishops. He then begs the question - if you are a Catholic how should you vote?

Solana continues, perhaps with his tongue in his cheek, perhaps not, that the solution for Bono and Christian socialists is to become freemasons. He observes that masons believe in God and another life as do Christians. Masons practice solidarity, equality and justice as do Socialists. Also in masonry there is an organisation and hierarchy as there is in the church and socialist party.

Back in October I wrote in my blog “Tilting at Windmills” about an interview in La Opinión de Malaga with Pedro Moreno Brenes.

“Pedro Moreno Brenes is a communist, the leader of the Izquierda Unida party at Málaga town hall, a lecturer in law at Málaga University and a Catholic. Nor is he a closet Catholic but practices his faith alongside his political beliefs that he has held since adolescence.

“He is quite clear as to how his religion co-exists with his political leanings. He says that the IU respects all beliefs and that for him there is no conflict whether he is invited to a religious or civil event. He added that he was pleased to accept all invitations should they be from the Muslim or Jewish communities or indeed atheists.

“Asked about the antagonism between the IU and the Catholic Church Pedro Moreno Brenes is quite clear. “The party, for example, proposes that there shouldn’t be any tax privileges for religious entities. It is compatible in the respect of - and the separation of - public and religious life.”

“So was Christ the first Communist? Pedro Moreno Brenes is in no doubt that the Christian message of “love one another” is much the same as the communist belief in fraternity and equality.”

However whilst it may be compatible to be a Christian as well as a socialist or communist in Spain - where Catholicism is the only real Christian option - politicians can co-exist happily with Christianity but tragically the Catholic Church is very much at odds with them.

(A version of this article appeared in The Morning Star in February 2010).

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