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MADRID, Spain (ChurchMilitant.com) - Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, an outspoken atheist, is vowing to bring radical changes to the country, and Church officials are increasingly alarmed.
Sánchez, who during his inauguration refused to take the oath of office on a Bible and crucifix, is the head of a new coalition government that promises to "legalize euthanasia, secularize education and strip the Church of "improper assets." The leftist parties are proposing legislation that will allow "a dignified death and euthanasia" at public expense, as well as a wide variety of "feminist policies."
Spanish Church leaders have been quick to express their concerns.
"Spain faces a critical situation, a true emergency for our future," Cdl. Antonio Cañizares Llovera of Valencia warned in a pastoral letter. He called for special prayers and Masses to be offered in Spain "as long as this uncertain future remains unclarified."
Cardinal Cañizares emphasized that his warnings were not "rhetoric or sterile drama," but a call for the Church to "testify to Christ in words and deeds" and to help "build a new mentality and a new Spain."
Archbishop Jesús Sanz Montes of Oviedo also sees the ominous signs, but expresses hope for the larger picture. On social media the archbishop tweeted: "Uncertainty is drawn on the horizon, but we know the sun will rise behind the clouds and storms. ... The sun will bring back color after all the clumsiness, lies and vanity which beset us."
The new coalition government also plans to "facilitate recovery of assets improperly registered to the Church" and guarantee "state secularity and neutrality toward all religious denominations" — removal of religious teaching from school curricula and enhanced "comprehensive sexuality education."
Cardinal Ricardo Blázquez Perez of Valladolid, president of the Spanish Bishops' Conference, took a more conciliatory tone. In a message addressed to Sánchez, he said Church leaders would offer "loyal and generous collaboration" in helping the prime minister "work in service of the common good," believing "authentic religious life contributes to the general good of Spanish society."
Nonetheless, in November the Bishops' Conference warned that restricting religious education risked violating basic rights in Spain. Catholics make up 67% of the population, a country that now holds a population of 47 million.
In December, the president of Spain's Catholic Family Forum accused Sánchez's government of "totalitarian methods" in its plans to reform the nation.
Spain's confederation of Catholic schools, Escuelas Catolicas — which employs more than 82,000 teachers and more than 5,000 schools — charged that Sánchez is "breaking the social consensus" with projected restrictions on religious education. The organization asserted that the right of parents to choose "religious and moral training in line with their convictions" was guaranteed under their constitution, as well as by European Union regulations and international law.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights — a foundational United Nations document — cites life, liberty and the security of the person as basic human rights. Similar to the First Amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights, Article 16 of Spain's constitution says liberty includes a civil right to religious freedom for all.
In the past few decades, Spain has undergone deep transformations in the relationship between the Church and the secular government, with far-reaching political, social and religious changes, including a constitutional disestablishment of the Catholic Church, and the secularization of state institutions.
Generally, the Catholic Church has steadily decreased its influence over the lives of Spanish citizens. At the end of the 20th century, Spain began admitting large numbers of immigrants. Its religious profile shifted profoundly as a result of the influx of people from myriad cultural and religious backgrounds, especially Islam.
The visibility of religious minorities in the public sphere has greatly increased in Spain as its Catholic Spanish population continues to plummet. And, according to a report released last month by the UN's Population Division, the wider population is projected to decrease by 9.4 million in the next 50 years.
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