TENSIONS over the Catalonian bid for independence are a distraction from corruption, a Spanish priest in London said this week.
“I have the impression that the whole independence thing has been used by our politicians to cover all the corruption that is affecting all political parties,” the Assistant Curate at St Laurence’s, Catford, the Revd Dr Hugo Adán-Fernández, said on Monday.
Hundreds of people were injured in clashes with police on the day of the referendum vote last month. The referendum was held in defiance of the Spanish government and declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court. In September, police arrested regional officials suspected of organising the vote, and 40,000 people protested against the actions of the police in Barcelona.
Last Friday, the parliament of Catalonia voted to declare independence, prompting the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, to sack the Catalonian President, Carles Puigdemont, and his government, and to impose direct rule.
On Tuesday, Spain’s High Court summoned Mr Puigdemont, and 13 other members of his dismissed government, to face charges including rebellion. Mr Puigdemont was in Brussels with several former ministers. On Tuesday evening, two former members of the Catalonian government, the former interior minister of Catalan, Joaquim Forn, and the former minister for labour, Dolors Bassa, returned to Barcelona from Brussels. As Church Times went to press on Wednesday, Mr Puigdemont had not returned.
On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people marched in the streets of Barcelona to call for Spanish unity. The Spanish government has called for regional elections on 21 December.
Dr Adán-Fernández, who was born in Madrid and was ordained a priest in the Spanish RC Church before becoming an Anglican through the diocese in Europe, expects that “nothing is going to happen. Both Madrid and Barcelona knew the whole thing of independence is impossible in the context of the European Union. This has been used for politicians to distract the attention from corruption and a real change of regime with political parties such as [the far-left party] Podemos. Now everything has been forgiven because the most important thing is independence or to keep Spain united.”
He spoke of the “fantastic incapacity to dialogue” of Spanish politicians — “probably it is a Spanish characteristic” — and argued that “the law has to be respected and followed by all citizens”. Elections in December would give the pro-independence movement “the opportunity to see their real support.”
He believes that owing “to the collapse of the main meta narratives — religious or political — not just in Spain but across Europe, the very marginal romantic nationalist movements founded in the 19th century have experimented a huge growth”.
The Church — “very divided by different political views” in Spain — was “not required to have an idea of Spain as a nation,” he said. “What matters is the poor and the needy.”
The Chaplain in Torreveija, 450 km south of Barcelona, Fr Richard Seabrook, said on Tuesday that the Church’s duty was “to pray for peace, harmony, and unity. As members of the Church of England we would be foolish to state a view on the present situation, but as part of the Church in Spain we have a ministry to call people to seek the peace ‘which the world cannot give’, and to pray for the unity of Catalan society and that the people of Spain, from whatever origin they come, that [they] may be able to live in peace and prosperity.”
A number of Spaniards had told him of their desire for Spain to remain united: “I have seen an increase in the number of Spanish flags being hung from balconies in Murcia and Alicante and a resurgence of ‘healthy’ Spanish nationalism. Most people seem to think that Señor Puigdemont is a fantasist who is doing nothing more than seeking to divide Catalan society. They believe there is no future for an independent Cataluña.” It was “irresponsible” for some UK press to suggest that there could be another civil war, he said.
Roman Catholic leaders in Spain are divided. In the days after the vote, the RC Archbishop of Valencia, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, said: “What has happened is very serious — an act of sedition, fraud and betrayal, a coup against the rule of law and a violation of the nation’s constitutional order and the coexistence in freedom of all Spaniards.”
But the RC Bishop of Solsona, Catalonia, the Rt Revd Xavier Novell Gomá, has spoken of his support for independence. “I admire the courage and peaceful resistance of those who defended this legitimate exercise of our people’s right to self-determination, and I condemn all violent acts, especially those committed by ‘public servants,” he said last month. He urged politicians to “articulate a peaceful, just way out for the Catalan nation, respecting this people’s legitimate rights, among which the right to self-determination stands out, without ignoring everything that has happened and taking into count the voting result.”
Prior to the election, the Abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of Montserrat, Catalonia, Josep Maria Soler, claimed that the Vatican would recognize Catalonia’s independence and spoke of the “nation’s right to decide on its future”.
Catholic news agencies report that, in the wake of the referendum, Mr Rajoy, summoned the Archbishop of Barcelona, Cardinal Juan José Omella, and the Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra, to discussions. Cardinal Omella condemned the “deplorable” violence on the day of the referendum.
Since democracy was restored in Spain in the 1970s, a number of politicians and business people have been jailed after corruption convictions. In July, Mr Rajoy, became the first serving Spanish Prime Minister to testify in a criminal case, during a hearing concerning an illegal funding racket within his party.