Catholics believe in end to privileges

Survey shows support for changes to doctrine proposed by Pope Francis

Mass in Madrid's Almudena cathedral last weekend.
Mass in Madrid's Almudena cathedral last weekend.

More than half of practicing Catholics in Spain believe that the institutional privileges enjoyed by their Church should be ended. A survey carried out by Metroscopia for EL PAÍS shows that the figure rises to 72 percent among those who rarely attend Mass, and up to 77 percent among those who never go to church. It is important to remember that while seven out of 10 Spaniards define themselves as Catholics, only 17 percent of that figure regularly attends Mass.

Metroscopia's poll coincides with an unprecedented Vatican initiative for change. Earlier this month Pope Francis announced that he would be launching a global survey among the faithful on issues such as homosexuality, divorce and birth control. Francis has made it clear he sees the need for change in the Church, seemingly echoing the concerns of a growing number of Spaniards who are calling for reform.

For example, the Metroscopia poll shows that 76 percent of Spaniards want to revoke the privileges outlined in the agreements made with the Holy See following the death of General Franco almost four decades ago. Despite the Spanish Constitution making it clear that Spain is a secular state, the Church is exempted from paying sales or property tax, while the state pays the wages of 3,000 religious education teachers, and the Catholic catechism is still taught in public schools.

The opposition Socialist Party last week adopted a policy of revoking the accord.

The numbers of practicing Catholics who now accept divorce is overwhelming

The results of the survey, which was carried out at the beginning of this month, also show that Spaniards have changed the way that they see family life: 51 percent of practicing Catholics believe that "this should no longer refer exclusively to one based on a relationship between a man and a woman." Eight out of 10 Catholics who attend church rarely or not at all, share this belief. And even though the Spanish synod of bishops refuses to accept the idea of adoption by homosexuals, which is now legal in Spain, 55 percent of practicing Catholics believe that the Church needs to reform so that it can accept that a "same-sex couple is as well prepared to bring up a child as a couple made up of two people of different sexes."

The numbers of practicing Catholics who now accept divorce is overwhelming: some 84 percent, and more than 90 percent of nominal Catholics are in favor of speeding up processes to allow couples to separate. "Divorce is common among Catholics. I am separated, and continue to attend Mass," says a civil servant at the Oratorio de Caballero de Gracia church, in Madrid, which is run by the highly conservative Opus Dei.

Despite such opinions among Catholics along with the stated intention of Pope Francis to pay greater attention to what his flock says, many senior clergy are sticking to their orthodox guns. The German Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, (formerly the Holy Office) said recently that he is against allowing divorced people who have remarried to take communion. "Divorce is not coherent with the will of God."

Spaniards are also overwhelmingly in favor of the use of contraceptives, with 88 percent of practicing Catholics supporting this approach to family planning, as are 95 percent of less-frequent churchgoers. "Those of us with children know what the reality is... and the Church should understand these situations," said Rosa García, a 52-year old woman attending a morning service in Madrid last week.

Pope Francis has also shown a willingness to reach out to same-sex couples. Over the last year, the percentage of Spaniards - religious or otherwise - who believe that the most important thing for a child is to grow up in a caring and loving home, regardless of whether this is a same-sex, heterosexual, or a single-parent household, has grown from 75 to 80 percent. Some 55 percent of practicing Catholics share this view. In the case of adoption, three out of four Spaniards and more than 75 percent of non-practicing Catholics agree that the sexual orientation of the adoptive parents is irrelevant. Four out of 10 conservative Popular Party (PP) voters refuse to ignore the issue of the sexual orientation of the adoptive parents.

In the run-up to the PP government's reform to restrict access to abortion, 53 percent of Spaniards say that the current rules should remain in place, which permit abortion on demand up to 14 weeks.

Around seven percent of people believe that abortion should be illegal, while 37 percent want to return to the situation up until 2010, whereby abortion was illegal except in the case of rape, problems with the fetus, or risk of psychological or physical harm to the mother, which is also supported by 53 percent of practicing Catholics. Around 58 percent of non-practicing Catholics support termination up to 14 weeks.

There was near universal support among those surveyed for a nationwide, in-depth investigation into accusations of child abuse within the Church.

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