ROME — Spain, a bastion of Christianity in Europe for centuries, finds itself in a crisis of faith as the influence of Catholicism continues to decline.
According to a 2019 survey conducted by the website Statista, 61 percent of Spaniards identified themselves as Catholic, compared to 70 percent in 2011. Furthermore, of those Catholics, over 60 percent said they do not attend any religious services.
One reason for this steady decline “is the very intense secularization that Spanish society — especially in this 21st century; in the last 20 years — has experienced,” Eugenio Nasarre, a former member of the Spanish Congress of Deputies, told Catholic News Service March 5.
“Practicing Catholics are already a minority” in Spain, Nasarre said.
This year alone, the legalization of euthanasia, the removal of crosses from public spaces, restrictions on state funding of Catholic schools and crackdowns on the church’s ownership of nonreligious property has led to an increase in tensions between the Catholic Church and the government of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
Nasarre, who began his political career during Spain’s transition from the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco to a constitutional monarchy, said the country is experiencing a “profound change in the relationship between the church and the state” that is far from the “spirit of reconciliation” that led to the drafting of the 1978 Spanish Constitution.
That spirit, he said, led to the constitution being built on two pillars: “One was the principle of religious freedom and the other was the concept of what the constitutional tribunal called ‘positive laicism,’” which recognizes that religions are “worthy of protection” and calls for “a cooperative relationship with religious confessions in those aspects that affect the common good of society.”
However, the former Spanish politician said the recognition of Catholicism as an integral part of Spanish society and culture has increasingly diminished due to “a climate of hostility brought on by a sector of the political parties in the government.”
Spain’s Socialist Workers’ Party, as well as the left-wing “Podemos” political party, he added, are “introducing a dynamic in the public forum of Spain that intends to marginalize the church from everything.”
“We are witnessing a new situation in which God — the reference to God — has practically disappeared from the public space,” Nasarre told CNS.
For Teresa Compte Grau, director of the master’s program in Catholic social teaching at the Pontifical University of Salamanca, the diminishing influence of Catholic social teaching is rooted in ideological tensions “that have been mixed up in the life of the church, as a community, as Catholics.”
“The Catholic world has two great enemies; one is the temptation of power,” Compte Grau said. When “we perceive ourselves as a minority, we are tempted by power.”
At times, she said, Catholics believe that power will help them fulfill the church’s mission in the world and that “political structures will do the work.”
“I am not speaking about the institutional church or saying that the institutional church is tempted by power,” she said. “I am speaking about the Catholic community. This is something that’s happened to the people, to the community of believers.”
The other great temptation, she continued, “is division. It’s not that I want a church that is uniform. I believe in pluralism, in the diversity of gifts and charisms. But divisions for ideological reasons, for ideology, has taken root in our house.”
Compte Grau told CNS that Catholics who give in to the temptations of power and divisions when facing injustice expect a different outcome from “what happened to Christ.”
“We shouldn’t expect a different outcome to what Jesus endured,” she said. “When we forget that and we look for power to save us, we are betraying our way of being.”
Compte Grau said that Catholics should instead seek a way to facilitate integration and cooperation and engage in “dialogue without fear.”
“We have to lose our fear. Sometimes there are people who believe that losing fear means being very combative,” she said, but “to lose fear means to not lose hope.”
Echoing similar sentiments, Nasarre told CNS that Spaniards long for “reasonable and fruitful” ways to coexist.
“My hopes are that this environment amplifies and transmits to the new generations and that a climate of understanding and collaboration is restored,” he said. “It must be said that, in this time, Pope Francis’s closeness to those who are far away helps to create this climate.”