Religion: Franco's Protestants

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Prompted by the World Evangelical Fellowship, Protestants all over the world last week offered prayers for their brothers in Spain. And Spain's 30,000-odd Protestant worshipers gathered in private homes, or in buildings that may show no sign that they are churches, to make their devotions' and give thanks for the prayers of their brethren in other lands. The Protestants of Spain, outnumbered by Roman Catholics 1,000 to 1, feel that they need all the prayers they can get.

The Bishop Says No. According to Article 6 of the Charter of Franco Spain; "no other external ceremonies or manifestations than those of the Catholic religion shall be permitted," but "no one shall be molested for his religious beliefs or in the private practice of his worship." In practice, Protestants may not hold government jobs, teach school, become officers in the armed forces. In business offices and factories they are rarely promoted (if they are not actually demoted when their beliefs become known).

They may marry among themselves in civil ceremonies. A Catholic who wants to marry a Protestant must first get permission for a civil ceremony, and he can get this permission only by furnishing proof that he is no longer a practicing Catholic. The proof consists of a signed declaration submitted to a justice of the peace, but the local bishop can simply refuse to accept the declaration as valid, and the wedding is off. There have been some cases of priests who left the church and tried to marry Protestants (one notable example: the late, reactionary Cardinal Segura's onetime private secretary, now an Anglican). These ex-priests never get permission for a civil ceremony, but Protestant pastors have worked out a stopgap solution: a private Protestant ceremony performed before a notary public. This has no legal validity whatever, only serves to put the ceremony on record.

No Moving Day. Spain's five Protestant denominations (Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Pentecostals and Plymouth Brethren) are subjected to constant harassment. In the past five months the police have closed five of their churches on technicalities—two in Barcelona and one each in Malaga, Seville and Madrid. Three years ago the police closed the only Protestant theological seminary in Spain; candidates for the ministry must now be trained by local pastors.

Despite repeated appeals to Franco, Protestants in Spain operate solely on the document issued by Franco's generals after the civil war, granting permission to reopen established Protestant churches. This means that there is no legal authorization for the establishment of a new church, or even for an established church to move. A Baptist church in Barcelona was closed down last year when its congregation moved without permission from a building that was about to collapse. And in 1954, Madrid's Second Baptist Church was closed because a new Catholic charity foundation across the street complained that the Protestant church was interfering with its work.

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