Spain: A New Hitch in Government-Church Relations

March 11, 2021
Bishop Bernardito Cleopas Auza, nuncio in Spain

The appointment of the future archbishop to the armed forces further blurs relations between the Catholic Church of Spain and the government of Pedro Sanchez, with the question of the future of the 1979 Concordat as a backdrop.

Could Covid-19 be so virulent as to poison the already strained relations between the left-wing and far-left coalition in power in Spain, and the Church? After the death—due to the coronavirus —of Archbishop Juan Del Rio Martin, archbishop of the armed forces, on January 28, 2021, the head of the Spanish executive suggested that the post of the late prelate should remain vacant.

Ultimately, the stated objective of Pedro Sanchez is to obtain the abolition of the armed forces diocese, and to entrust the remains to the archdiocese of Madrid: a way for the head of government to draw a line on the place of the Church within the country’s armed forces.

Add to this that in Spain, the Archbishop of the Armies is also the chaplain of the Royal House: which makes reveals that Pedro Sanchez intends to tackle the alliance of the sword and the clergy as much as that of the throne and the altar, the last vestiges of the Franco era that should be razed, in the name of the damnatio memoriae, the favorite weapon of the heirs of the Republic of Spain.

The response of the Church was not long in coming: the government must review its copy, because Pedro Sanchez’s project constitutes a violation of the concordat signed on January 3, 1979, between the crown of Spain and the Holy See.

From now on, for the Church beyond the Pyrenees, it is a question of moving quickly, and of pulling the rug out from under the feet of the executive: the apostolic nuncio, Msgr. Bernardito Cleopas Auza, confronted with the risk that the government do everything possible to boycott or slow down the confirmation of a candidate, hastened to launch the canonical process of nomination of the future prelate, in association with the cardinals and metropolitan archbishops.

In the same movement, the president of the Conference of Bishops of Spain, Cardinal Juan Jose Omella, was received in audience by the King on February 22, in order to agree on the name of the future archbishop of the armed forces.

Among the possible candidates, the current bishop of Avila, Msgr. Jose Maria Gil Tamayo, has for him to be a close collaborator of the former archbishop of the armed services.

Another possibility would be to appoint a priest, later promoted to the episcopate, who would have the backing of both the government and the Royal Household.