“80% of the Spanish historical heritage belongs to the Church in an absolutely unconstitutional way”

The oldest real estate scandal of the history of Spain occurred while everyone looked elsewhere. All except the Church. In 1998, with Jose Maria Aznar in Moncloa, the Government approved a royal decree that allowed the bishops to register as their own, through their sole word and without the need to provide any document, the cult temples. Not even Francisco Franco had come so far: the dictatorship authorized the dioceses to do the same with the rest of the real estate, an act that was called registration, but not with the temples. So the prelates, between the end of the last century and 2015, when the Executive of Mariano Rajoy abrogated this exceptional faculty, they surrendered to a gargantuan ‘I’ll keep it’ which included churches, hermitages, cathedrals, Mudejar art, the Giralda in Seville and the mosque in Córdoba.

Right now, if Demetrius Fernandez, bishop in this last Andalusian city, he could sell the mosque to whomever he wanted. For 15 euros. Or for 1,500. Or for 15,000 million. After all, the temple belongs to his diocese, not the State. But Fernandez is unlikely to make such a decision. his bishopric make millions a year for tourist visits to the building, money that neither declares nor pays taxes.

“You stop to think about it coldly and the seams of your brain burst. Can the pyramid of Cheops be sold? And the Machu Picchu? Obviously not & rdquor ;, he says Antonio Manuel Rodriguez, Professor of Civil Law at the University of Córdoba and spokesperson for recovering, an association that calculates that “80% of all Spanish historical heritage is in the name of the Church in an absolutely unconstitutional way & rdquor; and has been fighting for years to rescue what it has recorded thanks to a legal instrument that represents a absolute international anomaly. In France and Portugal, for example, the temples are public.

At first, Recuperando’s efforts had poor echo. It was Rodríguez himself who discovered that the Cordovan mosque was in the name of the Church. “In 2010, a friend and I asked ourselves and went to the registry. There we checked who owned it. I published an article in the press denouncing it, but it was of no great importance –he remembers-. And that the mosque was inscribed saying that it had been drawn on its ground an alpha and an omega with ash. That is, by consecration. But that’s not a way to acquire the domain, is it? It is not that one day a priest goes to your house, blesses it and keeps it & rdquor ;.


Until very recently, registrations have been surrounded by darkness, a phenomenon that leaves very bad place the capacity and will of Spanish society to control the clergy. When Aznar approved the royal decree that allowed the dioceses to keep the property of the temples, the government spokesman at the time, Josep Pique, I know He limited himself to pointing out that the reform was intended to “improve the functioning of the legal system in response to the public interest & rdquor;. Little more. He did not say anything about the new power of the bishops. Newspapers, including this one, they didn’t post a line.

Meanwhile, the Church began to enroll in a frenzy. “He did it the way almost clandestine Rodriguez explains. The registration of many of these assets should have been communicated to the Administration. Because if you are going to stay in the Cordoba mosque, at least let us know. But no”.

The awakening

Even so, little by little, and thanks above all to the work of entities such as Recuperando, the attitude of the Government and the citizens started to change. In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Spain for a case of non-registration. A year later, as a result of this sentence, the Rajoy Executive did what the socialist had not done before Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero: repeal the ability of bishops to search property without providing any evidence. In 2017, with the same parliamentary majority which later gave rise to the motion of censure, Congress urged the Government to publish the relationship of goods that the Church had registered since 1998. The list was not known until last year, already with Pedro Sanchez in Moncloa. The total figure causes vertigo: 34,961 properties. Most (20,014) are temples or adjoining rooms; the rest (14,947), land, farms, houses, premises, vineyards, garages or even castles. The most affected community is Castilla y León (8,706), followed by Galicia (6,210) and Catalonia (3,650).

And this is how we get to January 24, the day on which Sánchez and the president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference (CEE), Cardinal Juan Jose Omela, They sealed an agreement by which the Church recognizes that at least 912 of these assets (only 2.86% of the total) are not really theirs. For Recuperando, it is an important gesture, but completely insufficient. The head of the Executive himself assured that he would go much further in this legislature. “The government will carry out timely legislative amendments to facilitate the recovery of assets that have been improperly registered by the Church & rdquor ;, announced in his investiture speech.

the commandments

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“The bishops have made a very bad impression by recognizing that, in effect, have improperly appropriated those properties. As far as I know, the commandments do not indicate that you can steal, but only up to a thousand & rdquor ;, says Rodríguez, who insists that he is not moved no “anticlerical” impulse, but of pure “defense of public heritage & rdquor ;. And the Government, continues the jurist, has come to “negotiate on the Constitution, something that is non-negotiable.” Because for Recuperando, all Church registrations from 1978, which calculate around 100,000, should be declared “null” for being contrary to the fundamental law, which states that Spain is a non-denominational state.

Rodríguez does not believe that the bishops will return nothing. At least not in the short term. But theirs is a battle with very long time horizons. “Look, the time of the Church is the eternity. His time is eternal and ours is human. We have to adjust. This is a very long-term fight, but we are uncovering the biggest real estate scandal in history. We started with this 15 years ago. then it was unthinkable that it became known that the Church had registered 35,000 properties, or that it recognized that at least a thousand of those are not really theirs & rdquor ;, explains the jurist. And then he pauses briefly. “15 years ago -he concludes-, it was unthinkable that you would have called me to talk about this & rdquor ;.

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