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Losing their religion? New report shows Spaniards are turning their backs on faith

Nearly one-third of people in Spain are either atheists, agnostics or non-believers, according to a study by the Ferrer i Guàrdia Foundatio

Worshipers pray at a chapel in Madrid.
Worshipers pray at a chapel in Madrid.

Francesc Romeu was ordained as a priest 34 years ago and is currently in charge of the parish of Santa Maria de Taulat in the Barcelona neighborhood of Poblenou. “This Sunday is Palm Sunday,” he says. “I have already asked the florist who sells the palms and she tells me I will have a full house. The square will be bursting at the seams. But on Maundy Thursday it will be back to reality and I will preaching to just a few.”

It is not surprising Romeu feels his flock has diminished. According to the report Secularism in Figures, 2018 from the Ferrer i Guàrdia Foundation, 27% of Spaniards are either atheists, agnostics or non-believers. The foundation’s director, Silvia Luque, believes this is a “historic” figure.

THE EVOLUTION OF NON-BELIEVERS

Percentage of the population

Source: The Ferrer i Guàrdia Foundation with reference to the National Statistics Institute and the Center for Sociological Research’s barometer. El País

The data, compiled predominantly from the National Statistics Institute (INE) and the barometer from the Center for Sociological Research, does not spell good news for the future of the Church. As many as 48.9% of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 have turned their back on religion, while just 48.5% confess to having a belief system.

These figures contrast dramatically with data for the 65-plus age bracket where 88.6% still believe in God, who was an obligatory element in their childhood lives under the Francisco Franco dictatorship, which lasted from the end of the Civil War (1936-1939) until his death in 1975.

BELIEVERS ACCORDING TO AGE

Total percentage of the population

Source: The Ferrer i Guàrdia Foundation with reference to the National Statistics Institute and the Center for Sociological Research’s barometer. El País

With such a notable lack of faith among the young, the Church has every reason to feel uneasy. According to the vice-president of the Ferrer i Guàrdia Foundation, Vicenç Molina, youngsters have exchanged metaphysical formulas for technology.

The percentage of believers in Spain stands at 69.5% with only 26.6% declaring themselves to be practicing believers, which is, according to the report’s author Josep Mañe, an all-time low. As the figures suggest, the numbers abandoning religion since 1980 when just 8.5% of the population did not believe, have risen relentlessly, a scenario which has led to a corresponding drop in Church weddings.

RELIGIOUS COMMITMENT

Total percentage of the population

Source: The Ferrer i Guàrdia Foundation with reference to the National Statistics Institute and the Center for Sociological Research’s barometer. El País

The Ferrer i Guàrdia Foundation’s report reveals that, in Spain last year, 80.2% of marriages were civil compared to 19.8%, which were religious. This contrasts sharply with 1992 when 20.6% of couples chose to have civil ceremony and 79.4% to be married in a church. The figures were on par in 2008, after which religious ceremonies have been increasingly outnumbered. Civil marriages are most popular in Catalonia and Basque Country, while couples from Extremadura and Ceuta are keenest on the religious route.

Comparing the decline of religion in Spain with other European countries, Luque says, “The European Social Survey found that Poland has the biggest percentage of believers with 91%, due to anti-communist sentiment and the subsequent role of Pope John Paul II.” The survey finds that Lithuania comes next with 88%, Italy 74%, Ireland 74%, Portugal 73% Austria 73% and Spain 69%. In France, only 53% of the population are believers, a figure that can be put down to the division of the state and religion at the start of the 20th century, according to Luque. She believes Spain is becoming more secular because the younger generations “are less influenced by the national Catholicism of the Franco era.” Luque does not believe the recent wave of pedophile scandals in the Church has made an impact yet on the figures.

MARRIAGES

Total percentage of the population

Source: The Ferrer i Guàrdia Foundation with reference to the National Statistics Institute and the Center for Sociological Research’s barometer. El País

According to Enrique Gil Calvo, a sociologist and professor at the Complutense University in Madrid, young people’s growing lack of faith is due to modernization, education and the emancipation of women. “Youngsters today are less religious than those who came before, but more religious than those yet to come,” he says. “Religion and rational science are incompatible. As upcoming generations are increasingly better educated, there is a general rise in rational science and consequently less trace of pre-modern religious superstition.”

Historian and anthropologist María Lara, points out that throughout history, fear and uncertainty have been the main pillars of religion. “If, between the ages of 14 and 24, you are studying and your parents are paying your bills, you don’t have any worries,” she says. “With this lack of uncertainty, there is less need to resort to religion.”

But Romeu holds out hope that it is generational and when the younger members of his parish age, they may turn to the Church for solace. “The old people I had when I started out as a priest have died and now I have others who are retiring,” he says “Their grandchildren are now older and there comes a day when they walk into the church and stay."

English version by Heather Galloway.

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