The Declining Influence of the Catholic Church in Spain

By: Zeke Gutierrez

December 1, 2018

The more time I spend with my Spanish friends at Comillas Pontifical University, a Jesuit institution like Georgetown, the more we’ve engaged in conversations surrounding politics, business, and religion. One aspect that I’ve found central to my experience in college has been Catholic faith and identity. In Spain, my host family and many of my new friends identify as Catholic, along with the majority of the country.

Many individuals favor the Catholic Church because of its history and traditions. However, the younger generations, while still identifying as Catholic, no longer attend Mass as frequently. This trend becomes very evident when you enter a Catholic church and look around in Sunday Mass. The decline can be seen after Franco's dictatorship came to an end. Franco’s involvement with the Church allowed him to maintain peace, order, and stability until 1975. After Franco, Spain entered into a period of La Movida Madrileña. This was a counter-cultural movement, mainly in larger cities such as Madrid, which aligned with an economic boom and the beginning of a new Spanish identity. La Movida was an effort to modernize and catch up to the trends abroad. It was a new beginning and a form for the country to gain the freedoms that had been repressed. After the dictatorship, exiles returned with their children, who by this time were in their 20s and helped the counter-culture movement.

La Movida impacted every facet of life, and the current implications can be seen today in terms of the decline of the Catholic Church’s influence. My host parents, who grew up during this period, believe the shift was inevitable. In conversations with Spanish friends, I have noticed that the Church, while strongly rooted in the family structure, is maintained on the periphery when it comes to other facets of civil society.

The Catholic Church is trying to appeal to the younger generations and maintain its numbers, but this has been difficult. Many of my peers value the Church because of the cultural component, yet others drift away because of the role of the Church in the past. The division and impact the Church had on families remains a recent memory for many. In the United States, we do not have a recent history of the Catholic Church working alongside a dictatorship. Living in Spain has provided me with an incredible opportunity to talk with peers and my host family and further understand the role of religion and the legacy of the Catholic Church. The dictatorship ultimately influenced the role of the Church in Spain. As the majority of the Church’s laypeople are elderly and tied to traditions, the Church risks losing potential younger followers who are generally more open and accepting to change. While this is a problem highlighted within Spanish society, it seems to be a common issue worldwide.

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The Declining Influence of the Catholic Church in Spain