The president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference has again reminded us that this institution has not desisted from its determination to make democratic governments bend to its directives, as if it were a branch of the state. Far from focusing on the internal austerity of the Church, or on additional efforts to mitigate hardships in a society stricken by the crisis, Cardinal Antonio María Rouco is now scolding the government because he fears it will not use its clear parliamentary majority to reverse or water down the Socialist-era legislation on abortion and homosexual marriage. Moreover, he is warning Catholic politicians against the temptation of yielding to relativism.
The cardinal's intervention has attained greater repercussion than it might have, due to the fact that his speech coincided with the first visit of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to Pope Francis. In delivering a pre-cooked speech, the Spanish synod chief has delivered another rap on the prime-ministerial door from the conservative sectors that have been criticizing Rajoy, whom they see as too moderate for a leader of the Popular Party (PP).
Opposition parties have been calling on the government not to yield to pressure to limit the freedom of women by overturning the legislation on abortion. The Socialist Party is even threatening to demand the rupture of Spain's agreements with the Holy See, in case the PP should accede to the demands of the bishops. Such a threat, however, lacks credibility considering that the governments of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero not only refrained from revising these accords, but actually improved the mechanisms by which public funds pour into the Church and other Catholic organizations.
These mechanisms are what really call into question the separation of Church and state proclaimed in the Constitution. But relations with the Church deserve a serious and considered revision, rather than a mere heated reaction to the chief bishop's latest interference in national politics. Nor, needless to say, must the PP government act in response to ecclesiastical pressure. It is high time that the political parties set less store by what the bishops say or fail to say; and high time also for the Church to mind its own business.