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Church and State

Today is International Women’s Day. Thinking it was another of those 15-to-the-dozen 'read a book', 'eat more fruit'-type International Days, I was surprised to hear that it has been around since 1911, in the days of women’s suffrage. Women in those times demanded better pay (plus ça change), shorter hours and, most importantly, voting rights. IWD is now an official holiday in many eastern European countries. In some nations, it has equivalent status of Mother’s Day, and children give presents to their mothers and grandmothers. Officially it is to ``mark the economic, political and social achievements of women``. Which got me thinking about the role of women in Spanish society, and how much it has changed in such a short time. When I was researching an article about women in Spain, soon after arriving here, I was genuinely shocked (and somewhat horrified by my own ignorance of this country's recent history) to learn that until just over 30 years ago, under Franco's permiso marital, wives couldn't have a job, own property or even travel without their husband's permission - and divorce was almost impossible. So this applied to my mother-in-law and her generation, and while my husband was growing up women were treated as second-class citizens. In Europe and the US, women’s lib was in full flow, with bras being burned and pills being popped. Now, obviously there's more freedom for mujeres españolas - the socialist government has put through reforms on quick divorce, and passed a new sex equality law; but men are still paid 40 per cent more than women here. It's a country, and a people, split between catching up with the rest of modern European society, and staying put with its long-standing traditional values. Here in Seville this split is as obvious as anywhere, with a big demonstration yesterday against Zapatero’s new abortion law, which makes it easier for women to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Currently, they have to allege mental distress as grounds for abortion. Religion plays a major role in such debates, since the Catholic church is firmly and squarely against all these issues – divorce, gay marriage and adoption, and abortion. Catholic family groups organise many of the rallies against new socialist legislation, with senior clerics speaking out against such laws. At one event, the bishop of Valencia, Cardinal Agustin Garcia-Gasco, declared that ´´the path of abortion, express divorce and ideologies aimed at manipulating the education of our youth… leads to the breakdown of democracy´´. The Catholic church described the new law as ``outrageous´´, saying that it contributes to ´´moral confusion´´. Strong words, deeply felt and, doubtless, spoken with complete sincerity. The church’s official views on gay marriage are unequivocal: the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that it opposes homosexual activity as ´´intrinsically disordered, an abuse of our human nature. Under no circumstances can it be approved.´´ So it has been with some interest (and amusement) that I have been following a story that must have the Vatican in a right two-and-eight. A papal gentleman-in-waiting is alleged to have asked a chorister, both since dismissed, to procure male prostitutes for him, with physical details specified. Numerous men are said to have been procured for the giw, including men studying for the priesthood, as well as models, dancers and a rugby player. One whom the chorister offered to the gentleman (it reads like a bad joke, or a Carry On film), was ´´two metres tall…97 kilos… aged 33…completely active.´´ The giw, who was caught on a police wiretap negotiating with the chorister, is a senior government official of the Public Works department. As a ceremonial usher, he is a member of the Gentlemen of his Holiness, an exclusive fraternity ordained to ``distinguish themselves for the good of souls and the glory of the name of the Lord.´´ Distinguished he is, as in marked out from the rest, by international press coverage of the scandal. Hypocrisy is far, far too small a word. Let’s make no bones about this. We all know that it goes on, whether consenting or not. At my husband’s school, a Catholic boarding establishment near Seville, abuses took place the like of which have caused major scandals recently, focussing on the emotional trauma suffered by the victims and the refusal of the Church to stop the abuses, in Ireland and the USA. I have little doubt that Spain’s time will come soon for these mass revelations, stretching back decades, but the church here still enjoys a position of strength and respect (though this is ever-weakening) which will continue to afford it some protection from the mounting tidal wave. But the Vatican is reeling from a continual flood of these claims, and it’s easy to imagine poor old Benedict XVI exploding in a Gordon Brown-style rage at his household and their goings on. Prostitution rings have probably existed for years, but never in the public eye. Can it get any worse? On a lighter note, though none the less entertaining, the Vatican´s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, recently published its list of ``Songs to be a Good Christian´´ (yes, I thought it was a joke too – often seems to be the case with the Vatican lately, doesn't it?). Onward Christian Soldiers? No. Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus? No. The top ten rock CDs approved by the Holy Father (who prefers Bach, Mozart and Beethoven himself) has in first place Revolver by The Beatles, because it marks ‘a new beginning, a break with everything they had done before’. You can only dream, Your Holiness. Also favoured are Rumours by Fleetwood Mac and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. You don’t need me to point out the irony. In 9th place is What’s the Story, Morning Glory? by Oasis. Didn’t anyone think to, er, mention to the Holy See what that expression actually means, in reference to the male anatomy? They have may got themselves some column inches, but more followers? Somehow I doubt it.
Blog published on 8 March 2010