The 'way of the cross' of registrations: 24 years, 35,000 assets and barely a thousand that the Church recognizes as irregular

The 'way of the cross' of registrations: 24 years, 35,000 assets and barely a thousand that the Church recognizes as irregular

This Monday, the Spanish Catholic Church has admitted that improperly registered at least 965 of the 35,000 properties that he put in his name between 1998 and 2015 thanks to the power granted to him by the modification of the Mortgage Regulations decreed by the Government of José María Aznar. What's more, sold no less than 122 homes and farms that had been appropriated thus. Although in the joint statement with the Government the Episcopal Conference opens to the "regularization" of these properties, in its report they lower the recognition of the appropriation to: "point out errors" in the official list of their assets. Although minimal, it is a first step that reverses the process of more than three decades of wealth accumulation that the Church carried out from that decree until the law was changed to stop it.

On September 4, 1998, in one of the normally most bland government documents, the reference of the Council of Ministers, the agreement for the "modification of the Mortgage Regulations" appeared. The Council chaired by José María Aznar (PP) reported that it intended "the adaptation to the latest legal reforms, accommodation of the exercise of the function of the Registrar to the new needs and regulation of figures lacking updated registration regulations." The Official State Gazette published the decree signed by the Minister of Justice, Margarita Marshal of Ghent, on September 29, which entered into force 30 days later.

It did not raise much interest. In fact, the bar associations protested almost two months later against this text, but tangentially. The concern of the lawyers was the Law of Civil Procedure. At a plenary session of the General Council of Lawyers in November of that year, it was essentially agreed to request an immediate withdrawal of that rule and, in addition, challenge the new Regulation.

But the regulations empowered the Catholic Church, and only this institution, to register real estate in its name with the mere signature of the bishop of the diocese where that property fell as proof of its ownership. Thus, the door was opened to a kind of ecclesial real estate voracity that would accelerate especially at the beginning of the 21st century.

With the regulatory arsenal in the chasuble, the Spanish bishops began to register. It was not necessary to advertise so, underground, thousands and thousands of properties were put in the name of the Catholic Church fattening the ecclesiastical patrimony. When this massive registration operation began to be known, indicative figures appeared: the number of 4,500 properties was handled between 1998 and 2015. In the end, the reality was much higher. Seven times greater: almost 35,000 properties.

Later it would be known that this power was applied to houses, residential buildings, garages, schools, meadows, orchards... but also to cathedrals that were property of the State or to the Cordoba mosque. The residents of the Andalusian city discovered in 2009 that, in 2006, the Bishopric had put in his name the Muslim temple built since the year 784 until reaching 23,400 square meters during the Caliphate period. In 1523 a Catholic cathedral was built inside, embedded in the naves of the mosque.

The mortgage reform introduced by the Aznar government was applied by the Church to register in its name, at least, thirty cathedrals for a fee of 30 euros each. The buildings had become part of the National Artistic Treasure, as established by the Republican Government in 1931. In addition to the Córdoba mosque, the Seo de Zaragoza, the Buen Pastor cathedral in Donostia and the Giralda in Seville were registered. With this movement, although many of these temples continue to be restored with public money, the benefits of the visits and the collections will nourish the ecclesiastical coffers.

The registration frenzy stopped in 2015 because the Mortgage Law was modified in such a way that the Church lost the powers that Aznar's PP Executive had extended to it in 1998. The Church could not register more assets. The listing stopped after 17 years of registering at an average rate of more than 2,000 properties per year.

But the Government, then led by Mariano Rajoy (PP), was not interested in knowing how much the Church had registered. He threw balls out by arguing that this matter was a matter of the property registrars (the union to which Rajoy himself belonged by opposition).

The pressure did not stop, since the Congress of Deputies that emerged with the multi-party system was able to approve a non-law proposal that urged the Government to know what the list was and try to recover the goods. The correlation of parliamentary forces that brought this proposal forward was what would allow the victory of the motion of censure against Rajoy a year later.

However, in November of that 2017, the Executive gave, something, its arm to twist: "From the Ministry of Justice, in accordance with its powers, the necessary actions are being promoted (...) in relation to the preparation of a study in which all those assets that since 1998 have been unregistered in favor of of the Catholic Church", he replied in writing to a parliamentary question. With everything, the government plan was to have a list to put in a drawer since they insisted that registrations "are fully valid." Rajoy's plan was: "It is not considered appropriate to carry out any action". But the 2018 motion of censure changed everything.

After the investiture as President of the Government of Pedro Sánchez with the support of the left in June 2018 and the socialist electoral victories of 2019, the list was conforming, now, with the idea that the owners could claim the irregularly registered properties.

The payroll arrived in February 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The coalition government had identified 34,900 properties placed in the name of the Church between 1998 and 2015 with the mere signature of a bishop thanks to the 1998 regulation. The figure was much higher than estimated to date (and does not include registrations made since the entry into force of the 1978 Constitution, which groups such as Europa Secular consider, also, out of the law).

Most of these properties had been registered with, solely, "the faith of the corresponding ecclesiastical authority". There were about 20,000 that corresponded to temples or annexed dependencies and others, almost 15,000 were included in the heading of "other uses". There was everything there: lots, houses, premises, parking spaces, orchards, farms... Castilla y León and Galicia are the autonomous communities where the Church was able to register more assets thanks to the law modified by José María Aznar, as can be seen check into this map.

The Government, yes, recalled that the registrations had been made according to the law that was in force at the time, although now they could be reviewed and that hypothetical legitimate owners had the possibility of claiming. The list was sent to Congress.

Almost a year after meeting and listing, the Church has admitted that it put in its name almost 1,000 properties without right. The Government will send the list to the Federation of Municipalities and Provinces so that the legitimate owners can claim. They are 2.7% of all registrations detected. In addition, the bishops have recognized that a group of 122 assets, including homes and farms, were not only improperly registered but Also, they sold them. The Government affirms that they will have to indemnify the holders.

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