The Catholic Church and conservatism have gone hand in hand since the two had the pleasure of meeting one another. We are perhaps looking at the friendship that has left the deepest footprint on this part of the world.
For a long time now, the countries of the Mediterranean basin, particularly Italy, Spain and Portugal, have been associated with strong traditional values. This is mainly due to their religious legacy, which has determined the role played by women in their societies. Other strongly Catholic countries, such as Ireland and Poland, also bear this mark. Meanwhile, in the collective subconscious of southern Europeans, the Scandinavian countries are seen as the El Dorado of liberalism and social equality. This is something to which we in the South should all aspire to, but which seems out of our reach. Although it is true that over the last two decades southern European societies have advanced considerably with respect to equating themselves with the North, it is also certain that there remain many controversies yet to be resolved, some of which we have witnessed over recent months.
Assisted reproduction, abortion and family
In Spain, the debate over abortion has abated but in Portugal the question continues to hang over the government like a poisoned chalice ready to generate the greatest of controversies. In 2006, the Portuguese socialist government will hold a referendum on whether or not Portuguese women should be allowed to terminate pregnancies (currently abortions are only permitted in exceptional circumstances). Should the public vote Yes, unsanitary illegal abortions, Dutch ‘abortion boats’ (which are threatened with expulsion by the Portuguese navy from their territorial waters) and Portuguese women crossing the border in their thousands for terminations could all be made history. The debate promises to be fierce, and it is likely that the No vote, backed by the Church and the Conservatives, will be triumphant.
Another scenario in which we have seen conservatives and the Church fighting for the same cause is on the red-hot issue of homosexual marriage in Spain, which was finally legalised this June. Once again, the Church, together with the conservative People’s Party and the Spanish Forum of the Family, had managed to mobilise thousands of people against its passing. Pope Benedict XVI himself has everything but qualified Spain as the kingdom of the devil since the parliamentary journey to homosexual marriage was initiated.
Another issue over which the ecclesiastical elites have bent over backwards to support the stance of conservative parties has been the fight against experimentation with stem cells and assisted reproduction. It is necessary only to think back to the recent Italian referendum in which the Vatican played an active role by urging people to abstain from voting, which at the end of the day resulted in the invalidation of the referendum.
Will everything remain the same?
Some European countries are finding it hard to attain what others achieved many years ago, but things are changing and deadlock cannot last forever. Perhaps next year Portugal will be able to put its “great controversy” to rest, and in a couple of years it won’t even remember the passionate debate that the issue stirred. Following eight years of conservative leadership, Spain is now living in a golden age of social liberalism. Italy, on the other hand, despite at one time being the most forward thinking of the cited countries with respect to the issues discussed, seems to have fallen into lethargy. However, one must take into account that it plays home to the Vatican and that the Conservative Berlusconi remains in power, and undoubtedly, better times will come.