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February 2016 : Debate after sexual abuses in a Catholic faith-based school

Recent complaints to the police on sexual abuses committed by teachers in a Catholic faith-based school in Barcelona have sparked debates about the implication and lack of reaction of the Catholic Church in such matters. The situation, that has taken place in the school some years ago, has also generated speculation : are such cases isolated, or are they just the tip of the iceberg ?

February 2015 : The Catholic education curriculum in Spanish schools

In most Western countries, religious education is a battlefield between the religious and the secular. In the case of Spain, the presence of religious education in the curriculum of public schools raises great controversies and is the cornerstone of the debates between secularists and those who claim a greater presence of religion in the public sphere.

The passing of the new curriculum for Catholic religious education in primary and secondary education in Spain in February 2015 is generating heated debates. The most controversial issues are related to the incorporation of creationist references, as well as the incorporation of praying skills to the evaluation criteria. Scientists, philosophers, and other intellectuals have criticised the new curriculum for being dogmatic and denying some of the well-accepted scientific premises about the origin of the cosmos. Other criticisms revolve around the central role that the Catholic Church plays in designing the curriculum and appointing the religion teachers who are paid through the state budget.

Moreover, opponents to the existence of such a confessional subject also denounce the choice system as inappropriate. Students have to choose between two alternatives : Religious Education and Social Values. For the opponents to this system, all students should be exposed to what in the past existed as “Citizenship Education”.

May 2013 : Religion in public schools

The subject of religion in public schools has always raised lively discussions in Spain and has been one of the dividing lines between the right and the left.
The last reform project of the Spanish education system (LOMCE), approved by the Council of Ministers the 17th of May 2013 to be discussed in the Congress (and presumably passed with the absolute majority of the right-wing Popular Party), grants more presence in schools to the subject of religion. The subject of Citizenship and Human Rights Education, introduced in 2006 by the Socialist Government, will disappear. Instead, students will have to take confessional religious lessons or the alternative subject called “Cultural and Social Values” in primary education and “Ethic values” in secondary education. Moreover, the grades obtained in the subject of religion will again count for the average marks of students, as they did until 1990. The reform also maintains the public funding for private sex-segregated schools, a controversial issue which is currently in the public debate and which has been taken to court in several Spanish regions.
The reform is being highly contested (for different reasons) not only by the political parties in the opposition (PSOE, IU, UPyD, among others), but also by a great part of the educational community et le State Council. This last organ criticizes the teaching of “cultural” values and demands the inclusion of an education to citizenship as a mandatory subject in the curricula. It also questions the public funding of sex-segregated schools, in line with the decisions of the Spanish Supreme Court. The State Council states that the new status given to the confessional subject of religious education means a step back from the current situation.

October 2004 : Religion in school

Religious instruction in State schools was one of the first subjects of confrontation between the Catholic Church and the progressive political parties of the new Spanish Parliament. A provision inserted by the Partido Popular government into the Ley Orgánica de Calidad de la Enseñanza, Law on the Quality of Education of December 2002, declaring the obligatory nature of teaching "religion" (Catholic) or "religions" as an alternative to the first, sparked a debate.

When the Socialist Party was in power (1982-1996), religion, which was an optional course in the State education system, had no academic value and was therefore not included in the students’ evaluations. The PP’s reform project was aimed at finding a solution for this situation by giving the subject academic status. It answered the bishops’ preoccupations regarding the deterioration of this type of instruction and more generally, the de-Christianisation of Spanish society (El País, 10 de marzo de 2004 : "La asignatura de catolicismo perdió este curso un 6% de alumnos en ESO [Enseñanza Secundaria Obligatoria]"). With the proposed reform, religion acquired a status that was equivalent to that of the other subjects and would be included in the academic evaluation of students. The alternative "religions" course seemed so denominational in nature that many political and social stakeholders were afraid it would be used as an instrument under the influence of the Church (El País, 9 de febrero de 2004 : "Lo que los obispos quieren enseñar").
The PP government made no concessions and the reform was adopted. After the PP’s defeat in the elections of March 2004, and the advent of the Socialist Party, the reform movement was frozen.

The new government was therefore confronted with a new, enduring, controversy on whether it is necessary or not to include "religion" as a subject in the Spanish academic curriculum. The government chose to restore the optional aspect of "religion" with no academic value and proposed the creation of a new subject on "public values" as an alternative for students who do not wish to take the religious instruction course.

Furthermore, this controversy also reopened the debate on the instruction of other religions present in the State. If the Catholic Church demands that "its" subject continue to be taught in State schools, then why shouldn’t other religions do the same ? According to the agreements of 1992 between the State and the Evangelical, Muslim and Jewish faiths, these three religions have the right to insist on having their own religion courses taught in schools that request them. However, nothing or very little has been done on this subject and Jewish, Protestant and Muslim children develop their religion outside of the school. What is more, unlike the Catholic Church (religion teachers may be chosen by the bishops but they are paid by the State), the other religions do not receive any subsidies for this type of instruction. Moreover, the president of the main opposition party, a member of the government up until the last elections, showed himself to be entirely against the idea of "financing the instruction of religions that do not belong to our culture" referring to religions that "have ‘penal or moral standards’ or that treat women with scorn" (El Mundo, 24 de agosto de 2004). Despite this, the socialist government designated a small portion of the State’s overall budget to finance minority religions, three million euros per year to divide among the various religions. As for the Catholic Church, it will receive approximately 141 million euros (El País, 5 de octubre de 2004).

D 27 mars 2015    AFernando Bravo López AJulia Martínez-Ariño

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