Spain’s new atheist prime minister spells trouble for the Church

When a new Socialist premier took office in Spain on June 2, the Catholic Church was careful to emphasise its readiness to co-operate. Yet within barely a week, as tensions emerged over Pedro Sánchez’s policies, many Catholics were wondering whether the conflicts of past years were fated to return.

The 46-year-old economics professor was sworn in after an unprecedented censure motion over alleged corruption brought down the centre-right Mariano Rajoy. But with his Socialist Party, or PSOE, claiming just 84 places in the 350-seat Cortes, and relying on support from Catalan and Basque nationalists, Sánchez will have trouble fulfilling his promise to tackle the “pressing social needs” brought on by unemployment and economic hardship.

Sánchez broke with tradition by declining to have a Bible or crucifix present when taking his oath before King Felipe. Undeterred, the bishops’ conference president, Cardinal Ricardo Blázquez, wished him God’s help in upholding “unity, prosperity and social cohesion”, and reiterated the Church’s readiness to “collaborate sincerely”.

Meanwhile, other Church leaders, such as Bishop Adolfo González Montes of Almería, played down the new premier’s “personal decision” to avoid a religious oath, as Catholic family and education groups sent open letters urging him to place national interests above ideological preferences.

Yet there are hints of trouble ahead. Sánchez, a self-declared atheist, has campaigned against state funding for Church activities and school religion, and for the removal of religious symbols from public institutions.

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