Divine Business

I have been informed by a friend in Burgos that the Spanish Catholic Church early this year acquired the ownership of the Mosque of Cordova. For a song. To be more exact, the cost of registering the deed, the total price required, was approximately €30.

The entrance fee to visit this monument is €8, and it receives about a million visitors a year. A simple arithmetical calculation reveals a guaranteed yearly return of 266,666% on the initial investment for as long as the religious tourist trade lasts. And it must be added that there is no further expense to be taken into account: the Spanish government pays all costs of maintenance and restoration.

One for the Guinness Book of Records, undoubtedly. Even the profits from cocaine, expressed as a percentage of production costs, pale by comparison.

This extraordinarily good deal, or chollo as they say in Spanish, which has wonderfully concise vocabulary for dealing with everything sleazy and underhanded, is the result of a law passed in 1996 by the government of José María Aznar (aka Ánsar by Citizen Dubya) which awards to the Church the right to acquire for the asking the property of any public building in Spain.

This, mind you, still according to our man in Burgos, and I have to suppose that it’s a slight exaggeration, must be publicly owned buildings of a somehow ecclesiastical nature, otherwise they would already have acquired the seat of Congress and all the Court buildings. (Well, in fact, I recently saw a photo of the Constitutional Court convened in a church or cathedral with all that gilt and the big crucifix presiding: so this may be in the works, perhaps the acquisition of the Mosque is merely a test case to see if there’s any reaction.) Or have they already done so?

But even with that restriction, it still represents some big chunks of property, or so I imagine: I don’t have the list at hand.

Shocking as this may be, if you live in Spain it’s not at all surprising. In Franco’s time, in 1953, an agreement, called Concordato, was made between the Holy Apostolic Seat and the Spanish State which defined things in this way:

“The Catholic, Apostolic, Roman religion continues to be the only religion of the Spanish Nation and will enjoy the rights and privileges that belong to it in conformity with Divine Law and Canonical Law.” (Two different words are used here, Ley and Derecho, to distinguish between two different types of law.)

The document goes on to grant the Church hierarchy just about every right it could possibly desire – including the provision that whatever ecclesiastical rules the Church may promulgate and foist on the population will have the force of law! – with the sole restriction of an obligation to inform the Spanish authorities beforehand of what they intend to do. Most relevant to this post is the following: “The Spanish State promises to provide for the economic needs of the Dioceses which in future shall arise, sufficiently increasing the endowment established in Article XIX.” Article XIX provides a long list of the economic needs of the Dioceses which assures that the Spanish State, using of course the taxes of the Spanish Nation, will provide for anything and everything the Church may fancy.

Since that time some changes have been made. But economically the Church is still a parasite of the Spanish State, which according to the 1978 Constitution is “non-confessional”. In the tax system, one has the choice of assigning or not a part of one’s taxes to the support of the Church. Given that the sum of money assigned to the Church by the Concordato is fixed, this choice is irrelevant, but it means, presumably, that those who are willing will give a greater part of their tax money for every other taxpayer who withholds his, and therefore will be the more virtuous, and one hopes, the more greatly rewarded in Heaven.