Without cross and bible

Without cross and bible

Pedro Sanchez © Francisco Seco

After the change of government, Spain's bishops fear that the new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will take an anti-clerical course. The has already signaled that it will pay little heed to church concerns.

The letter with which the Spanish Episcopal Conference congratulated the new Spanish Minsiterprasident Pedro Sanchez on Monday on the beginning of his term read rather dryly. Politically correct, but more detached than usual. The message is at the same time an unpromising omen for the future state-church relationship in the southern European country. For the appointment of the 46-year-old Socialist as head of government holds considerable potential for conflict with regard to the concerns of the Catholic Church.

Sanchez had brought down his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy with a vote of no confidence on Friday, and was subsequently ousted on Saturday by King Felipe VI. sworn in as prime minister. The reason for the motion of censure was the condemnation of Rajoy's People's Party in the "belt" corruption case.

Spain's bishops in worry

Now Spain's bishops are looking with concern at the new government agenda. Sanchez is expected to revisit many of his program points from the past election campaign. The economist repeatedly emphasizes that he is a "convinced atheist". So when he was sworn in as the first prime minister in Spain's democratic history, he swore not on the Bible, but only on the Spanish Constitution. Even the usual crucifix was dispensed with at his request at the ceremony in the Zarzuela Palace.

Sanchez considers religion a private matter. Thus, not only does he advocate the removal of all religious symbols from public schools and institutions. He wants to remove religion from the curriculum beyond that. "Religion belongs in the church, not in the school," he says at every opportunity. In addition, Sanchez wants to tax the church more heavily and cut financial benefits.

But there are more conflicting interests: Even as opposition leader, Spain's new head of government advocated legalizing active euthanasia and medical assisted suicide. Last year, he also introduced reform proposals in parliament that would allow underage transsexuals 16 and older to undergo hormonal treatment and change their names without parental consent.

But Sanchez is at the same time planning steps that are likely to please the Church – especially in matters of social policy. The socialist announced he would step up the fight against child poverty, which is on the rise in Spain. He wants to push for gender equality with new laws and reverse the previous conservative government's tightening of laws on foreigners.

Shaky minority government

The new prime minister wants to reintroduce the universal health care system abolished by Rajoy in 2012, which guaranteed health care to all people living in Spain, including illegal immigrants. On top of that, he wants to initiate numerous anti-corruption laws.

How long Sanchez will hold on to power and whether he will be able to implement his reform plans, however, is unclear. He leads a very shaky minority government with just 85 of 350 deputies. His motion of no confidence was supported by the left-wing populist Podemos, various regional parties, the Basque nationalists and the Catalan separatists, who are now making high political demands in return.

In addition, Rajoy's ousted conservative People's Party has announced a "tough opposition policy" and, with its Senate majority, can block many reform and legislative initiatives of the socialist minority government. Although Sanchez wants to govern until the regular end of the current legislative period in 2020. Many observers, however, ame that new elections may be held as early as this fall.

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Christina Cherry
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