by Tess Daniels
Catalonia, one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, lies in the midst of an independence controversy that has plunged Spain into one of its worst political crisis in decades. Secession in Catalonia has long been controversial, with separatists advocating fervently for Catalonia to become its own sovereign state. In an Oct. 1 referendum, declared illegal by the central government in Madrid, 42% of the eligible electorate cast their ballots, and an overwhelming 90% voted for secession. Police responded to the vote by shutting down polling stations, confiscating ballots, and even using batons and rubber bullets, leaving an estimated 800 people injured. Polling shows Catalans more divided on this issue than the referendum might lead one to believe, with 41% favoring independence and under 50% remaining unopposed.
Like many of Spain’s autonomous regions, Catalonia boasts its own historical and cultural tradition, as well as limited self-government in its regional parliament. The region is also one of the wealthiest in Spain, accounting for almost one-fifth of the country’s output. In order to be a legitimate sovereign state, the nationalists need international — particularly European — recognition, because they have encouraged voters to believe that an independent Catalonia would become part of the European Union, allowing economic and political stability.
Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont signed a symbolic declaration of independence on Oct. 10, citing the results of the referendum. Puigdemont then proposed holding off on the implementation of independence for a few weeks to allow conversation with the national government. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responded by asking Puigdemont to clarify whether he has actually declared independence, hinting that Puigdemont created intentional confusion. He confirmed that Spain would not discuss options outside the legal parameters of its constitution. Rajoy also declared that if Puigdemont does not respond in time or confirms a will to secede, the Spanish government can turn to article 155 of the 1978 constitution, which allows a sack of the regional government. In a tweeted response, Puigdemont answered the prime minister: “We demand dialogue and the response to is to put article 155 on the table. Message understood.”
Officially and overwhelmingly, the Church is advocating for dialogue and peace, but it seems that in Catalonia, the opinions in the Church mirror the division in the country. Some Catalonian clergy are openly supporting the secessionist movement, while others are remaining impartial in order to maintain their distance from the political strife. The bishops of Catalonia released a joint statement on Sept. 20 urging Catholics to pray for Catalonia and “to move forth on the path of dialogue and understanding.” On the other hand, some 400 priests and deacons from ten Catalonian dioceses and religious congregations signed a declaration defending the Oct. 1 referendum, claiming their support is moved by “the Gospels and humanistic values.”
However, the entirety of the Church remains united in pleas for peace and condemnations of violence, especially after the brutality that marred the Oct. 1 referendum. “The situation of violence we have experienced in Catalonia is deplorable,” said Cardinal Juan Omella of Barcelona on Oct. 2. “Let us entrust this situation to the God of peace.” The Spanish ambassador to the Vatican, Gerardo Bugallo, had a private meeting with Pope Francis and wrote that the pope spoke about the “Holy See’s position against every self-determination process that is not justified by a process of decolonization.” He also wrote that the pope “manifested the rejection by the Church to every attitude that is not rooted in respect to the constituted legality.”