The Adjusted Normal, 9. An Emptying Church.

Outsiders tend to think of Spain as a religious country, where women clad all in black file into church on Sundays, and where on feast days, the priest comes out in procession with the parish parading behind him. There are areas where that is still a reality, but they are becoming infrequent.

Spain, of all the Mediterranean countries, is abandoning the Church. Every year there are less and less parishioners attending Sunday Mass. There are fewer men who want to enter the priesthood, too, and as the older priests die, the ones left behind find themselves leading two or more parishes, sometimes many kilometers apart. 

Fewer people are getting married. Those that do, are heading for the mayor's office and a civil ceremony. In the year 2000, over 160,000 couples tied the knot in a church. Last year, the number didn't even reach 42,000. Less children are being baptized, and less are receiving First Communion. What is rising in number, are Last Rites and funerals. The coming generations are leaving the Church.

There are many reasons, including the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Church all over the world, Spain included. Then there are the bishops that seem to be levitating in a different universe from the rest of us, like Bishop Cañizares in Valencia the other week, who cautioned against an eventual vaccine for Covid-19, saying that "the devil is at work in the pandemic" because six of the vaccines being researched use cells from "aborted fetuses", which is "inhuman and cruel". His wording led everyone to believe that babies are being aborted just to acquire the cells. 

(The truth of the matter is that six vaccines being researched do use fetal cells. But they are modified cells regularly used in a number of other vaccines. The fetal cells they use come from at least two fetuses aborted in 1972 and 1985. The reason for using them is that the sugars in the proteins are human, and the sugars in the proteins from animal cells would not help the vaccine react create a specific immune response. The Vatican has announced in recent years, that, in the absence of good alternatives, Catholics may receive vaccines with those human fetal cells in good conscience. Now, explain that to Bishop Cañizares.) 

Remarks like those, and others, such as that feminism is evil, doesn't help to fill the pews. More and more, people are attending Mass only for specific celebrations, and those are on the downside. Many who celebrate First Communion do it for the money and the party. They've become like little weddings, with lunch at a restaurant with a garden, five different plates of seafood, and everyone giving expensive gifts. It's completely normal to give electronic gifts, such as a laptop or a tablet. Or a smartphone. But the festivity no longer has the religious meaning it once had to most.

Another reason Spain is gradually weaning itself from Catholicism is historical. In other countries, such as Portugal, the Church did not align itself with the dictatorship. In Italy, at first both the Vatican and Mussolini reached agreements signed in the Lateran Treaty, though, later, Pius XI did not like Mussolini's wooing of Hitler, and even less the treatment of Italy's Jews by the racial laws of the late 1930's. Nowadays, the Catholic Church is still strong in Italy, but weekly Mass attendance is around thirty percent. 

But Spain's bishops supported Franco's coup, and helped him as much as they could. During the Civil War, extremely few priests could be depended on by the Republicans. Partly because of the Communist beliefs of many workers who joined the loyal Army units that fought Franco, but also because the majority of clergy were loyal to Franco. Tales of how priests gave away people who were hiding from the Fascists to certain death, did not help. Sometimes those betrayals were unintended, but more often than not, the priest knew full well what he was doing. Ramón J. Sender's Requiem for a Spanish Peasant, recreates one such incident. Sender's own wife, Amparo Barayon, was arrested and shot for being an anarchist and a feminist. Memory casts long shadows. 

Life continues.

Church, Empty, Architecture, Building


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