Page 10, 7th December 1962

7th December 1962
Page 10
Page 10, 7th December 1962 — Church and social order in Spain

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Church and social order in Spain


IT is strange to recall today that, shortly after the age of discovery, the Spanish Church was thinking social democracy centuries ahead of her time. When the spring in her step began to fail in the post-Tridentine era. she clung, like any institution in decline, to the visible signs of stability. the cadres of wealth and of power.

Spanish unity owed much to the Church, as Mr. Hugh Thomas has shown. When the tradition of John of the Cross and Ignatius Loyola deserted the Church's social conscience, the fragmentation of Spain set in.

In the eyes of many of the poor. the clergy stood with the powers of oppression. The age of reason reached over the Pyrenees into the anti-clerical vortex. The modern sceptic and socialist made their bid. The stage was set for the carnage.

Yet, though the Church failed to stand for social change, though magic and grace were confused in simple minds, the faith itself survived. As a Catalonian friend put it drily: "The Spaniard will die for the Church, or die fighting it; even then, rarely find him outside it".

There are elements of truth in this. Today, in a sense, every Spaniard is a bit of an anti-clerical, but his grumbling remains, so to speak. within the family. Mass attendance, varying from 60 per cent (even more) in parts of the north to 15 per cent (even less) in (lie south. may not exceed a national average of 25 per cent. But formal agnosticism is untypical, even among the intelligentsia,

Wider contacts with Europe may blow draughts of methodic doubt, but the fact remains that Cstholicism remains endemic to the .ipanish character and is very much in the air. ("That's true," said a cynic, "in spite of the Church; don't give the credit to the clergy)").

Sense of Family

The identification of religion with a social way of life has its snags—a casual attitude to religious duties, a certain boredom in Church, a too automatic resort to the priest for baptism, marriage and the last rites. But when you talk to a Spaniard, you cannot escape the feeling of talking to a Catholic—in a sense you never experience with a Frenchman, Italian or Belgian.

Though the pastoral thought of modern Popes is slow to penetrate —few Spaniards are frequent communicants—a profound sense of the Christian family endures, and maintains a remarkably high moral standard in the Spaniard's private life.

Again and again in casual talk, appeals are made to Christian moral criteria. The teenager's chivalry to his girl friend is unfamiliar to British eyes, and strangely touching. The spectacles of the London parks are quite unknown ill Spain. Sexual offences are rare. Perversion is mentioned a little today, alas, but it remains an extremely unusual condition.

It is said with conviction—and even the sceptics allow it—that, out of every 10 brides. nine approach the altar in a virginal state. (In Britain, we read, the figure is four at the most.) Families work to possess their little cars, but as something more than a status symbol. It is quite a sight to watch whole families setting out on Sunday morning. their lunch in the boot, and poor old grandma plastered to the floor by the weight of the third generation. Couples are marrying earlier, but this is a less disturbing phenome

non than it is in Britain, where the solidarity of the three or even four generation family is now no more. Spaniards do not tolerate their aunts—they use them.

The Church, viewed as an Establishment, is something of a patchwork. The rural parish priest is a friend of his people. The urban secular priest is more remote, the member of a social caste, not too well loved. rarely saluted in the street, not greatly disposed to preach sermons. You can live in parish for years and never hear the word of God.

The religious orders, deeply involved in social movements and education. are popular. Likewise a powerful stratum of younger secular clergy with live social consciences. Yet it is not easy for a priest to be progressive in Spain, because of a paradox.

Though the Church's social failure once made her an object of hate, the Spaniard still tends to take a Levitical view of the priestly character. At middle age, he views with suspicion the Church's incursion into the field of social action.

Said one of my more sardonic informants: "What is the point? Even Leo XIII came in as a tailpiece to Marx".

But the Church is not standing still. The hierarchy contains a stern traditionalist element, in character with the late Cardinal Segura, who loved and lived with the poor, but thundered damnation at stockitigless legs. But a growing stratum of dynamic thinking on the

level of some of the bishops and many of the younger clergy has been working away for years— and the fruits are being reaped.

The Christian social sense of the Opus Dei men in the ministries, of the more liberal Syndicate leaders, of the Catholic Workers (HOAC and IOC), of the Catholic Action complex of services—all this must surely owe something to teaching.

It is due, in fact, to the work of men like Bishop lierrera of Malaga, whose diocesan "Rural Teachers" run the famous ChapelSchools (church and school combined in one building). These teachers, trained by the Church, have halved adult illiteracy in the area, tratned the people in modern farming techniques, increased the flow of vocations. brought teams of seminarians to work with the people at grass roots level.

Church at Work

Mgr. Herrera's Leo XIII Social Institute in Madrid, which virtually ranks as a university college, runs a high-powered three-year course for graduate priests and laymen in social theology, economics. statistics, politics, law, philosophy, history, trade unionism, and the theory of local organisation.

The famous Social Week teams tour the universities. For sociological enquiries into the anatomy of the national Catholic life, the Centre of Applied Sociological Studies provides teams of clerical and lay economists, statisticians, ethnologists, and town planning experts.

There are 21 schools for women social workers, all run by the Church. The Jesuits head an important social development centre in Madrid, the seat of a number of important publications, and a retreat centre for workers. The five Labour Universities of the Syndicates are run respectively by Jesuits, Dominicans, Salesians, Augustinians, and secular clergy.

In the practical order, the Caritas network spends the equivalent of half a million pounds in a year on work for old people, social centres, infant aid, health, housing, canteens, refuges, clothing for the poor, scholarships, relief for "disaster" areas.

It caters for alcoholics. the casual poor, day nurseries, young people in moral danger, recluses, the homeless. It runs services in railway stations to help the wanderer, the vagrant, the migrant, the young people heading for social disaster.

One of the most remarkable housing schemes in Europe was started by the Construtoras Beneficas de la lglesia, who were founded by the Bishop of Cordoba, where not only houses but also enoperative stores have been built. The movement, now national, has provided 21,147 homes for low income workers; another 7,000 are on the way; and a further 16,000 are planned.

The Church runs 40 first-class camps whcrc 20,000 boys between the ages of 9 and 16 have been given somewhat energetic holidays with a view to "personal integration and the discovery of God in nature"! Poorer children arc sent on holiday at the rate of 13.000 a year from 21 dioceses. There are 89 special "colonies" for the purpose.

There are 213 Catholic centres of family training, with special

Family Weeks, pre-marriage courses, and training in home management. The Catholic athletic stadium in Casablanca is the finest in the wholeprovince. The needs of young girls are catered for in "Juvenile Cities". The Employees' Centre in Madrid runs six residences. where bellhops and bank clerks live together. paying according to their means.

The Centre also operates a sanatorium, vocational training for 15,000, eight consumer co-operatives, holiday camps for youths. It has built 3.000 apartments, and has brought 9,000 young people into retreat, Throughout Spain, the Church has 77 offices caring for the needs of emigrants, and chaplains have been sent to serve emigrant communities in Europe, Australia and Latin America.

The Jesuits rim an institute of arts and industries for 350 pupils and a school for skilled tradesmen. Throughout the country the Church has 784 occupational training centres catering for nearly 100.000 students and I,561 charitable institutions for 217,317 orphans, sick, aged and disabled.

Ordinary Church schools teach 683,192 pupils at the elementary stage (60 per cent of them free); 294,840 at secondary stage (27 per cent of them free); and 8,368 students are cared for in university colleges, higher education centres, chaplaincies and residencies.

I attended the opening of a hostel, set up by Catholic professional men, for young men working their way through university. They go to lectures in the day, work in the evening, and study half the night. They live in the hostel for as much or as little as they can afford.

Vocations in Spain are abundant. Many of the annual 5,000 applicants are turned away. There Is always a danger in Spain of seeing the priestly life as a career, and selection of candidates for seminaries is now becoming sterner. There are 30,000 priests and religious on the missions, 18,000 in Latin America.

The religious orders are plainly losing some vocations to Opus Del, which, as a secular institute, offers the young man (a) the dedicated personal life; (b) spiritual strength for his personal apostolate in the world; and (c) leaves him free to involve himself deeply and actively in the shaping of secular society on Christian lines. Some forms of association leave the member free even to marry.

Opus Dei

In a sense, Opus Dei is a lay version of the worker-priest movement, without its disadvantages. Moreover, no one will withhold admiration from the austere, dedicated men, living under vow in community, who work for the new social order in top government posts and in all branches of the professions.

But there is considerable resentment in Spain against what seems to be the institute's impregnable secrecy (they just won't talk), and, whether the impression is right or wrong, this reserve makes it extremely hard to believe, for instance, that there is no concerted Opus Dei attitude behind the government's present economic policy.

One of its authors swore to me that he had never had a single directive from Opus Dei. I believe him, because I doubt whether it is even necessary. The activity of Opus Dei men seems to form itself into recognisable shapes and policies almost unconsciously, and, because like gravitates to like, the institute has acquired the reputation of being a kind of exalted freemasonry, with an clement of "jobs for the boys".

This emerges most clearly in the predominance of Opus Dei men In the teaching posts of the universities, and it gives rise to many complaints. When its members even decline to say how many they arc, or to discuss the formation they receive, the institute is bound to be misunderstood.

Basque Clergy

It is fitting that a powerhouse of social studies should have arisen in the Valley of the Fallen, 30 miles outside Madrid, where the worst fighting of the Civil War took place. Attached to the vast basilica, built into the mountainside in memory of both armies, is a Benedictine monastery where leading social science teachers from a number of countries come to give lecture courses and seminars in various languages.

These are open to bona fide social students from any country, and there is no charge. Anyone accepted for a course, wherever he comes from, even has his fare Paid!

Prominent among the young priests backing the workers' claims these days are elements of the Basque clergy, well imbued with the mind of the encyclicals, though it must be admitted that some of them get their cassocks a bit tangled up with the motives of the Basque "separatist" movement.

Like most other forms of opposition in Spain, the movement has become increasingly realistic. What it really stands for now is a decentralisation of government in favour of a large slice of regional autonomy. The same is true of the Catalonian movement, whose historical roots lead you hack to the colonising activities of Hannibal. And Barcelona, the industrial capital of Spain, has never ceased to resent subordination to

Continued on page 15

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