Calvo initiates a dialogue with the Vatican marked by caution | Society

Sooner or later it had to happen. Like all socialist governments, that of Pedro Sánchez has run into the Church. When everything seemed to go on wheels for the exhumation of the remains of the dictator Francisco Franco of the Valley of the Fallen -one of his star projects-, the bishops tell him that they can not prevent the desire of the family, which is to bury him in the crypt of the cathedral of La Almudena, a real disaster of image for the Executive. The vice president, Carmen Calvo, visits this Monday in Rome to the right hand of Pope Francisco, the secretary of state, Pietro Parolin, with many issues on the table, although Franco's is the central one that conditions all the others.

The Government faces this appointment with great caution and some fear. It has decreed a total opacity. No one from the vice presidency says a word, not even from the agenda of topics that will be discussed during the meeting. Nor is it expected that at the end of the appointment there will be an appearance before the press, just a note. The Executive, and especially the vice president, who is in charge of this matter, has made great efforts not to bother the Church. His silence has been almost total even in the face of the controversy unleashed by the publication in EL PAÍS of the opacity with which the Spanish Church has managed during the last decades the denunciations of pedophilia in its midst.

So as not to bother the Church - only she can prevent the burial of the remains of Franco in La Almudena- It has even delayed the publication of the list of goods unregistered by bishops irregularly. According to government sources, the list has been prepared for some time but the order of the vice president is expected to be disseminated. The Government was confident that a Church led by an Argentine Pope belonging to the less conservative wing would help him resolve the issue of Franco's remains. He did it in the first phase, but not in this second one, and now the Executive is in his hands.

The veteran socialists, like Calvo, have not forgotten what happened to José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2005, when he tried to make an educational reform that did not please the bishops, who managed to mobilize 400,000 people. The socialist government softened that reform and Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, then vice president, went to Rome several times to try to get the bishops to lower their level of confrontation. In return, it agreed with them a clear improvement in financing. It is something that is repeated over time, to the point that in 1981 Cardinal Tarancón came to say that "with less Catholic governments, the Church lives better."

Patio de los Naranjos of the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba.
Patio de los Naranjos of the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba.

The Church now lives in other times with Francisco, but the scheme of the power relationship with La Moncloa seems similar. So much so, that Calvo goes to Rome with feet of lead, waiting to be able to advance on the key issues. These are some of the central issues of the relationship between the Church and the Spanish State that are the protagonists of the environment prior to the appointment in Rome.

The Holy See prefers not to mediate in the case of the dictator


The Vice President of the Government, Carmen Calvo, meets on Monday at the Vatican with her number two, the Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin. The meeting, announced by the Government even before it has been confirmed, will take place under the shadow of the conflict for the exhumation of Franco's remains and their transfer outside the Valley of the Fallen. Or, at least, that would have wanted the Executive of Pedro Sanchez, who had the intention of going to the Holy See in search of help to undo a wrong that threatens to cause a boomerang effect if, finally, Franco ends up in the family crypt of the cathedral of La Almudena. But the strategy was not the best from the beginning and the Vatican thinks that it is Cardinal Carlos Osoro, archbishop of Madrid, the right interlocutor. A "long list" of issues, said the Government spokesperson, Isabel Celaá, as the immobilisations of real estate, will have greater prominence.

The meeting will occur exceptionally without the presence of an ambassador to the Holy See. Gerardo Bugallo was dismissed on Friday by the Council of Ministers. A clearly intentioned movement that leaves at a key moment in the relations between Spain and the Vatican without its diplomatic representative - the placet to the new ambassador, Carmen de la Peña, has not yet arrived - and that contributes to the climate of privacy in which The parties have wanted a meeting to be held, from which immediate decisions are not expected. In fact, also in an extraordinary way, the vice president will not make any statement after a meeting that will be, according to sources from the environment of that meeting, a first contact at the highest level between the Executive of Sanchez and the Holy See.

The environment of Calvo, who arrived on Sunday at noon in Rome, confirmed three weeks ago that the Vatican had been canvassed to find a mediation with the Franco family to prevent the burial of the dictator in the family crypt of La Almudena. In Rome, as is always the case when they put themselves on the table publicly before their private discussion, they did not like the attempt at pressure. The hearing had not yet been granted and in the Holy See the question of the exhumation of Franco has always been considered as a matter of internal politics, something badly managed, by the way, that should be resolved in Spain with the appropriate ecclesiastical interlocutors. The Church does not oppose the exhumation and the exit of the remains of Franco from the Valley of the Fallen, but has no intention of stirring up a conflict with such a clear position. It is not the style.

The vice president took it for granted and already announced that she would not formally touch the issue during her visit this Monday. In case of doing it from sideways, Parolin would surely refer to the position maintained to date by the Archbishopric of Madrid. The Vatican considers that the interlocutor in this matter is Cardinal Osoro, a man of the absolute confidence of Pope Francis, who already expressed his opinion when asked if the Church would accept to bury the dictator in the crypt of La Almudena. "We have no problem in welcoming anyone. There is a property of Franco and, of course, like any Christian, he has the right to be buried where they [la familia] they think convenient. "

The trick of the vice president for this issue are the other issues placed on the table, with greater impact for bishops and citizens. Religious education (of which the Vatican does have direct competence) or presumably fraudulent registrations of the Church with different types of buildings. From the Mosque of Cordoba, put to his name in 2006 for 30 euros thanks to a Franco law, to parochial houses, vineyards, teachers' houses, fountains, public squares and even the top of a hill, that of Oiz, in Bizkaia. The measure would be an economic blow for the Church, so that the Vatican will listen and study the issue. But, again, that is a matter that, they will point out, is the responsibility of the Episcopal Conference, to which competition over assets is transferred. In any case, here also the criteria dictated by justice will be followed.

Franco to La Almudena?

The decision of the Franco family to move the remains to the crypt of La Almudena, where the ashes of his daughter Carmen are, It is a huge problem for the Government, which trusted that the descendants of the dictator would point to the discreet cemetery of Mingorrubio, in El Pardo, where Carmen Polo, his wife, is buried. PSOE sources admit that it is "much worse" that Franco's body is in the center of Madrid than in the Valley of the Fallen, 50 kilometers from the capital. The tomb will be in a tourist area that will see large Francoist concentrations every 20-N (anniversary of the death of the dictator). According to the Executive, only the Church can prevent it. Groups of historical memory have addressed by letter to Pedro Sánchez and the archbishop of Madrid, Carlos Osoro, showing their "stupor and enormous indignation" at this possibility. So has a group of MEPs, who have written to the Pope.

Thousands of registrations

How many properties has the Church placed in his name using a privilege granted by a Francoist law of 1946? The Ministry of Justice had promised to deliver before October 4 the data, collected from 1998 to 2015, when the rule was repealed. He has not done it. Navarre: 1,087 unregistered assets; Basque Country: 523; Aragón: 2.023; Burgos: 3,000; Seville: 386; Jerez de la Frontera: 73; Canary Islands: 489 inmatriculaciones; Catalonia: more than 430 in only two dioceses ... they are unofficial data, collected by organized citizens to recover the patrimony. The most paradigmatic case is that of the mosque of Córdoba, but thousands of churches, hermitages and cathedrals have ended in these years in the name of the Church without anyone knowing. The figure sketched by the Episcopal Conference from 30,000 to 40,000 seems conservative. To these temples you have to add farms, hunting grounds, fountains and public squares, pediments, master's houses, vineyards ... all by way of Franco's law. In Portugal, France, Germany or the United Kingdom, cathedrals are public goods. Why not in Spain? Calvo has the opportunity to achieve some progress.

Opacity before the abuses

The worldwide wave of scandals of sexual abuse in the Church has also reached Spain. The Government has limited itself to condemning the crimes and leaving the responsibility in the courts, to which a minority of victims go, among other things because the possible crimes are usually prescribed. The Spanish Church still does not seem willing to take the step taken in other countries: to recognize the problem in all its importance and to open investigations with transparent conclusions that will shed light on the phenomenon. Only some voices, such as Gil José Sáez Martínez, judicial vicar of the Bishopric of Cartagena, have publicly admitted that it is necessary to "change" after "a century covering pedophilia." The publication by EL PAÍS of the silence of the Spanish Church before the accumulation of abuses in the last three decades has provoked some movements, but lukewarm, mainly because it has put at the head of the commission to study the matter to Juan Antonio Menéndez, bishop of Astorga, who silenced known cases. "The Government must demand greater transparency and information," says Ignacio González Vega, spokesperson for Judges for Democracy.

Religion at school

The agreements between Spain and the Vatican of 1979 established that Religion should be taught as a subject in the school curriculum and that its professors should be chosen by the diocesan ordinary, who would transmit the names of those selected -preferably, primary school teachers- to the Ministry of Education. , who pays the payroll. Today there are some 20,000 - the total figures are not clear - and are part of the faculty, according to the ministry. One of these teachers is Resurrección Galera, dismissed by the Bishopric of Almería in 2001 after marrying a divorced and which the Supreme Court forced to reinstate a month ago. Education states that it spends 250 million euros per year on the salaries of Religion teachers, although it only pays directly for those of Andalusia, Aragon, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Ceuta and Melilla, which added the past 2,916 salaries (100 million). Every time less teachers of Religion are needed because the population is less believing. In 2000, 83.8% of students took the course, compared to 63% in 2017, Although the figure has suffered a slight rebound after the entry into force of the LOMCE, that made the matter evaluable, which in many cases raises the average by being easy to approve.

Professor Resurrección Galera, readmitted by the Church, in Almería.
Professor Resurrección Galera, readmitted by the Church, in Almería.

Concordat and agreements

The dictatorship of Franco, despite his confrontation with Paul VI and the reformist bishops, signed in Rome in 1953, a crusade concordat. Published in the BOE with the heading of In the name of the Holy Trinity, It defined that Church as a "perfect society" and endowed it with countless privileges. After the death of the dictator, the national-Catholic concordat, which had 5,716 words, transmuted in 1976 and 1979 into five agreements totaling 7,136. Among his extravagances, many unfulfilled, stand out that the King is the one who appoints the military archbishop, with rank and salary of general of Division and an almost ministerial troop of chaplaincies; that the Pope should consult the Government for the appointment of bishops "in case there are objections of a political nature"; that "no cleric may be required by judges or other authorities without the consent of the Vatican"; that the State must consult "the holidays" that it adds, on its own, to Sundays; which is "permanent doctrine the indissolubility of marriage"; that "education in schools will be respectful of Christian ethics"; that "the State will ensure that Catholic sentiments are respected in the media"; that the public Treasury "should collaborate with the Church in its adequate maintenance with an updated economic endowment annually"; that "the Church declares its intention to achieve by itself the resources for its needs", and that "the Holy See, the dioceses and the religious orders and their provinces and their houses are entitled to a total and permanent tax exemption".

Signing of agreements between Spain and the Vatican, in 1979.
Signing of agreements between Spain and the Vatican, in 1979.

Tax privileges

It is one of the most delicate matters and the one that would give more strength to the Government to negotiate the others, but no Socialist Executive has dared to enter it, contrary to what happens in other countries. The tax treatment of the Catholic Church in Spain has always been controversial. The most striking case is the exemption from payment of real estate tax (IBI), what is paid for real estate. The Catholic Church does not have to pay this tribute, like other confessions or sports or cultural associations, because it accepts the Law of Patronage, approved in 2002. It is the same rule that frees them from paying corporate and property taxes. The Church does not have to pay taxes for donations or collections. Neither to render accounts of the dividends or interest of its investments or for the capital gains obtained in the sale of real estate, are exempt from the payment of property transfer tax and inheritance and donation tax. "The Church does not have any special fiscal regime, unique or different from other entities. Like NGOs and other institutions, associations or foundations of the nonprofit sector is subject to the Law of Patronage, "says the church hierarchy.

In addition to this tax support, the Church receives great support in the declaration of income. Since 2006, with the PSOE in the Government, the IRPF form has a box for taxpayers who wish to allocate 0.7% of their taxes to the Catholic Church. There is another box to assign this same amount to social purposes. Last year it obtained 265 million in this way, according to the Tax Agency.

Europe Laica "denounces the expensive publicity campaign paid for with public money and orchestrated, year after year, by the Government and the Catholic Church to urge the taxpayers to check the boxes. " This association against the privileges of the Church amounts to up to 11,000 million public money that benefits the institution per year. This amount includes money received by charter schools, subsidies to maintain historical heritage and other payments such as, for example, to compensate military chaplains. The issues in question are so many and so voluminous, especially in money, that Calvo could pose an open negotiation in which he would have to win. But several veteran politicians consulted that in the past have been close to other negotiations with the Church warn that things with them are never simple and always, whatever happens, they are the ones that least yield. Not in vain, they have 2,000 years of advantage in all types of high level negotiations.

This article has been prepared with information from Carlos E. Cué, Natalia Junquera, Oriol Güell, Carmen Morán, Juan G. Bedoya, Elisa Silió Y Jesus Sérvulo González.


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