Spanish lawyers complain to UN about abuses to freedom of religion

Madrid, Spain - A group of attorneys in Spain issued a complaint on May 16 to the UN High Commission on Human Rights demanding that its commissioner, Navi Pillay, should investigate alleged violations against freedom of religious belief by the Iberian country. The State Association of Christian Attorneys (AEAC) is demanding sanctions to be applied upon Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his Socialist government.

The group provided a report in which it provides 150 cases of “repeated, persistent, and manifest violations of the freedom of religion and belief” in Spain. The report mentions statements by various government officials such as a former commissioner for the victims of terror, Gregorio Peces-Barba, who was quoted as saying that Catholics “only understand the bludgeon,” in reference to measures the government would like to see applied against the Catholic Church. The report also contained descriptions of various attacks upon Catholic places of worship, such as a bomb at a church in the Majadahonda borough of Madrid, and acts of vandalism at Catholic churches and religious images. Also noted was the aborted parade of atheists that was planned for Holy Week that would have accompanied faithful Catholics during the traditional processions marking the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These were denounced by the report as seeking to “thoughtless damage” and to “chastise Catholic consciences.”

The AEAC gave assurances that should the UN prove the veracity of the report’s claims, Spain could then be sanctioned by losing its right to veto at the Commission on Human Rights at the international body.

While has historically been a Catholic country , it is no longer the religious monolith that it was. According to studies done by Spain’s Centre for Sociological Research (CIS) during Pope Benedict’s 2006 visit, for example, only 50 percent of Spain’s young people consider themselves to be Catholic. This has led some observers to predict that within 20 years Spain could cease to have Catholic majority as even the sentimental ties to the Church fade away.

According to the CIS, half of the Spaniards aged 15 to 29 years of age no longer consider themselves to be Catholic. Similar results were registered in 2006 by the Santa Maria Foundation, a Catholic nonprofit that specializes in studying young people and their values. The drop in the number of young believers came in the early part of the 1990s: between 1992 and 2010, the percentage of those within this group who considered themselves to be Catholic dropped from 82 percent to 52 percent. During the same period, the overall number of Catholics in Spain fell from 87 percent to 73 percent. Young people traditionally show lower levels of adherence to religion in Spain. In 1992, only 5 percentages points separated young people from the overall population as to religious belief. That number now stands at 21. According to a CIS study released in April 2009, 73.2 percent of Spaniards considered themselves Catholics.

Sociologists and political pundits appear largely in agreement that the secularization of Spain is inexorable and accelerating. Since the election of Spain’s second Socialist government under Rodriguez Zapatero, the sense that Catholic belief or identity is also bound up with Spanish identity appears to be fading. Until the 1990s, the percentage of Spaniards who considered themselves Catholics was still close to 90 percent.

Among those who do consider themselves believers, Catholics appear to reject a number of central beliefs of their church. According to a CIS study of 2008, approximately 80 percent of Spain’s young Catholics reject Church teachings on condoms, pre-marital sexual relations and divorce. Also , an overall majority of Catholics also oppose Church teachings about the above mentioned areas, as well as homosexual liaisons, same-sex marriage, adoption by homosexuals, and married priests. The study found that while Catholics may not actually engage in abortion, for example, they do belief that Church teachings are too severe. Critics of the Church claim that this means that the Catholic Church is out of touch and needs reforms.

In an interview in Spanish media, Catalonian journalist Daniel Arasa said “Certainly, there has been over the last few years a decline in the practice of religion in Spain that has been even more marked among young people.” He conjectured that consumerism, and the drive to materially succeed at all costs, as among the reasons for a decline in belief and practice. Even so, his son Daniel, who works in Rome, appeared more optimistic when he noted that the Church was founded some 200 years ago at Pentecost with but 12 apostles and the Virgin Mary.