The Catholic Church in Spain, 1875-1998

By Harrison, Joseph | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2003 | Go to article overview

The Catholic Church in Spain, 1875-1998


Harrison, Joseph, The Catholic Historical Review


The Catholic Church in Spain, 1875-1998. By William J. Callahan (Washington, D.C.:The Catholic University of America Press. 2000. Pp. xix, 695. $49.95.) Nearly two decades have elapsed since William Callahan brought out his prize-winning study on Church, Society and Politics in Spain, 1750-1874 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1984). Since then he has published a number of seminal articles in scholarly journals on the trials and tribulations of the Spanish Church during both the Restoration monarchy (1875-1931) and the Franco dictatorship (1939-1975). This impressive new monograph brings us up to date.

To its secular critics, the author informs us, the Spanish Church appeared a single-minded monolithic institution orchestrating a campaign to impose a highly traditional form of Catholicism on a society in the throes of profound economic, social, and political change. Yet the rise of liberalism, republicanism, socialism, anarchism, and intellectual pluralism challenged the clergy's view that Spain had always been and would always be Catholic. Gradually and fitfully, Callahan argues, a number of clergy and laity realized that traditional responses to changing circumstances were insufficient. Instead they looked to models developed in France, Belgium, Germany, and Italy in order to deal with the religious effects of urbanization and industrialization. Discussion of the 'social question' reached extensive proportions in the period 1880-1920, following the publication of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, as the Church struggled to respond to signs of religious alienation among the urban proletariat. South of the Pyrenees, indifferent results at attempts to organize industrial workers were offset by the success of social Catholicism in the countryside.

Callahan contends that the foundation of the Spanish Church's influence rested in part on its status as the established Church of the State. Conflict developed from the ambiguities inherent in the legal status of an institution which was neither too powerful nor too weak. The Church remained dissatisfied and resentful that the political elite, even under Conservative governments, refused to extend its privileges significantly. By and large, it succeeded in blocking any substantial alteration of its privileges under the Restoration system and saw them modestly enlarged during the dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-1930).However,it paid a high price,viz.,the growing opposition of liberals, republicans, socialists, anarchists, and intellectuals.

The arrival of the second Republic in April, 1931, caused the Spanish Church to focus its concern on the new regime's commitment to the separation of Church and State. While the hierarchy carefully adopted a position of "complete prudence and caution," it was obliged to confront violent manifestations of anticlericalism in the streets.

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