The end of Catholic Spain?

In 1492, on the eve of Columbus’ first voyage, the Emirate of Granada fell to the armies of the Spanish monarchs Isabel of Castilla and Fernando of Aragón, los Reyes Católicos. For the first time since the Arab invasion of 711, the entire Iberian Peninsula was Catholic. Spain, in particular, remained so for centuries and despite the critical moments of the liberal revolutions in the 19th century and the republican period that predated the civil war of 1936-39. Most recently, the dictatorship that was born out of that conflict and which lasted until 1975 confirmed the privileged status of the Catholic Church, making it the official and mandatory religion of Spain. But things are changing and fast!

According to this article from the newspaper Público, published before the papal visit this Saturday, the studies made by the Spanish Centre for Sociological Investigations (CIS) since 2006 point to one striking conclusion: the number of Catholics in Spain is dropping quickly, especially among the younger generations. Up until the 1990s, around 90% of the population still self identified as Catholic, despite the relaxed practice and adherence to moral teachings. But from then on, between 1992 and 2010, the number has fallen so much that the latest study by the CIS, made in September this year, concluded that only 52% of the those with ages between 15 and 29 see themselves as Catholic. And the numbers are similar in other researches made by secular and religious institutions. It’s a 30% drop in just 18 years, from 82% in 1990 to the present number. Perhaps the most staggering thing is the difference between people in that age group and the overall percentage of Spaniards who still consider themselves Catholic: they were 87% in 1992 and dropped to 73%, which means there’s currently a 21% gap between the religious feelings of the majority in Spain and those of the younger generations. It’s an irreversible trend, researchers say, and that means that in two decades Catholicism may well become a minor faith in Spain.

There are several reasons for this, the Vatican’s moral stances and the latest scandals being two big ones. Even among Catholics, there seems to be a lack of identification with the Church’s positions: a poll conducted by the CIS in 2008 found that around 80% of the younger generations were opposed to the official teachings on condoms, premarital relations, and divorce and even among the overall population the majority doesn’t agree with the official Catholic teachings on those three topics plus homosexuality, same-sex marriage and adoption, abortion, and celibacy. Add this to the rise in conservative militancy in the Church in general and the Spanish hierarchy in particular, which is expected to increase even further as the number of followers keeps dropping, and you have a cocktail ready to remove Catholicism from its centuries long predominance in Spain. Unsurprisingly, the Church hierarchy says the culprits are materialism and the general desire for pleasure at all cost, as if freedom of religion, free critical thinking and the Vatican’s conservative stances had nothing to do with it…

However, it seems that there’s no religion in line to take the upper hand, the trend being towards general secularization and not a mere switch in dominating faiths, so it’s not clear how the process will affect the Spanish polytheistic groups. There are several pagan organizations in the country, such as the Pagan Federation, Forn Siðr Ibérica and Comunidad Odinista-Asatru, which achieved official State recognition as a religious group in 2007, but only time will tell how these and other communities will fare in the future.


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