Fired Teachers Allege Inquisition

MADRID, Spain (AP) - Primary school teacher Francisca Urbano had a drink with a male colleague and didn't attend Mass every Sunday.

Resurreccion Galera married a divorced man.

Maria Carmen Galayo lived with her boyfriend.

For these ``sins,'' the three religion teachers had no job to go back to at the start of the school year. Although they taught at public schools, they were fired at the behest of ecclesiastical authorities.

On Monday, the women took the unusual step of marching into the Spanish parliament, demanding their jobs back and condemning the government for bowing to the dictates of the Roman Catholic Church in a way that they said recalls the darkest period of their country's history.

``It's the Inquisition all over again,'' said Urbano, who had worked for a state school in the southern town of Monda for 10 years until Bishop Antonio Dorado of Malaga ordered her contract not be renewed.

``They told me I was not a good example of a Christian lifestyle for my students because I didn't go to Mass and there was a rumor that I'd gone for a drink with a male colleague,'' she said.

``Well, I go to church when I can ... and indeed I did have a drink, which is the most normal thing in the world.''

A statement released by the Spanish Bishops' Conference said the dismissals were legal under the ``international pact which binds the Holy See to the Spanish state.''

It was referring to a treaty Spain signed with the Vatican in 1979 that preserved the church's exclusive authority to approve teachers of religion classes, which are not compulsory.

The teachers ``knew perfectly well that their teaching should be reconciled to the doctrine and the morals of the Catholic Church and they should comport themselves accordingly,'' the statement said.

The State Federation of Religious Educators says the dismissals are not uncommon, and most of the cases involve women. The organization represents one in six of Spain's 13,000 public school religion teachers.

``This is just the tip of the iceberg,'' said federation president Luis Guridi. ``There are many more cases which don't come to light because of the fear of telling the truth.''

Guridi asserted that the church's tactics recalled the medieval Spanish Inquisition under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela, when a clerical tribunals staged witch hunts to ferret out heretics.

Opposition politicians argued the papal pact was being abused to undermine workers' rights and condemned the government for doing nothing about it.

``In the framework of the agreements with the Vatican, the liberty of conscience and the privacy of a some citizens is being impaired,'' said Gaspar Llamazares of the United Left party.

``What concerns me the most is that the government says absolutely nothing about this,'' said Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

AP-NY-09-11-01 0654EDT

Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.