Catholic Church Crusade in Spain

«Córdoba Mosque-Cathedral belongs to everybody and not just to a certain religion or another, and therefore it should be returned to the public domain.» These words from a tourist sum up the latest battle in a controversy that keeps Spaniards on tenterhooks: when state-owned properties and tracts of land are registered by the Catholic Church as their own, thanks to a law passed during the Franco era and modified under the conservative government of Aznar (1996–2004).

The Catholic Church is also being accused of trying to wipe out the building’s Islamic identity and even removing the word *mosque* from its name on leaflets, posters and even from Google maps. Despite being declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, which means it belongs to all humanity, the takeover of Córdoba’s Mosque symbolises the Church’s frenzy to accumulate properties under their privileged tax regime. In fact, since 1998 the Church has registered some 1,087 properties in total, including shrines, churches, garages, cemeteries, plots, vineyards, commercial establishments, houses, apartments… even one pelota court!

Built in 987 as a mosque, the temple was converted into a Catholic church in 1236 after Fernando III reconquered Córdoba, turning it into a symbol of both Islamic Al-Andalus as well as Christian heritage. In 2006 the Church registered the Mosque and the Cathedral complex as one single entity in the city’s property register, at a cost of €30. Similar situations have been recurring for a long time throughout Spain, not necessarily with local government hearing about it. That is why there is a popular movement demanding greater transparency about the list of properties “illegally” registered as well as raising awareness with an online campaign.

Some legal experts suggest that this law may be unconstitutional. According to the Spanish Constitution (article 16) there is no official state religion, therefore, bishops cannot act as if they were public workers. However, the mess is not only legal but is also a political one, and politicians find it difficult to take a stance. Changes to the law are imminent, although it will not have retroactive effects; thus Córdoba Mosque-Cathedral (and numerous other assets) will remain under the Church’s management and ownership.

Córdoba Mosque-Cathedral receives around 1.4 million visitors per year, paying an entrance fee of €8 (during the day) and €18 (at night), this generates an estimated profit of between 10 and 12 million per year… yet without having to pay taxes because of the many benefits the Church still enjoys in Spain.

I was taught that God is love and compassion. I was taught that the Church was created to continue with His work. I also remember how shocked I was when I read about St Francis of Assisi’s life and wise words: “if we had any possessions, we would be forced to have arms to protect them, since possessions are a cause of disputes and strife, and in many ways we would be hindered from loving God and our neighbor. Therefore in this life we wish to have no temporal possessions.” How ironic. It seems the Church has lost the core values that once united it, instead of teaching by example. As Plutarch has it, “I would rather excel in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of my power and possessions.”