Madrid may cut state payments to the Church

Madrid, Spain — Spain's Socialist government may trim public financing of the Catholic Church when it renegotiates a current deal with the Vatican.

Spanish justice minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, in an interview published by the Spanish daily La Vanguardia: "The government won't be seeking friction with the Church."

But he explained it would be rational to renegotiate the deal that was signed in 1979 because it runs out next year.

That deal not only assures public finance of the Catholic Church, but also of private Catholic education.

"The deal departs from the principal that the Catholic Church is self financed," explained Lopez Aguilar, whose government has upset

the Vatican with plans for gay marriage and adoption, stem cell research and to make divorce in the overwhelmingly Catholic country easier.

Spanish tax payers can sign a covenant whereby some of their contributions to the state are redirected to church coffers.

But since 1989 this has covered only 70 percent of its needs, estimated at EUR 110 million euros.

The government directly contributes the shortfall, some EUR 35m for 2005.

"The government does this without the least sign of objection and I feel that speaks for our clear desire for cooperation," said Lopez Aguilar, whose Socialist Party have been in power little more than a year.

"But Church leaders know this situation is not indefinitely tenable," he said.

Despite Spain's 80 percent Catholic population and being home to the influential Vatican group Opus Dei, its socialist government of prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is frequently challenging Vatican doctrine.