The coming 8th and 9th of July the Pope will be coming to Valencia to close the Fifth World Meeting of Families. The fact that he holds a double title – Head of State of the Vatican and Head of the Catholic Church – ensures that citizens will not be indifferent to the visit, regardless of whether they are Catholics or they profess no religion, especially because the official policy of the Catholic Church impinges upon the rights and duties of all citizens.
However, the enthusiasm and unconditional support that the different municipal and governmental administrations are giving to the visit (City Hall, County Council, Generalitat and the Spanish State) go well beyond what is tolerable in an aconfessional state. It is not acceptable for public institutions to devote huge amounts of infrastructures and human and economic resources to a series of public events that are merely the proposal of one organization, the Catholic Church, which does not represent us all and which does not form a part of the common interest that should guide the practice of good governance. Especially since it is a Meeting that imposes a model of the family based on exclusion.
The groups, collectives and organizations that have signed this document, plural and heterogeneous in their political positions, ideological make-up, confessional and non-confessional, DECLARE:
1/ Lay state and lay society
We do not live in a society with a single culture or a single religion. This is an unquestionable trait of our society’s historical reality, but it is also an opportunity to enrich our views and to live in solidarity with “the other”. We all have the right to celebrate what we are: atheists, agnostics, religious people, believers … and bring our beliefs into harmony with those of other members of our society by means of dialogue and concrete practices – the defence of human, social and ecological rights and the pursuit of a fairer society. For this harmonious fellowship to be possible and positive for all, there is one condition that must necessarily be fulfilled: the existence of a lay state that guarantees the exercise of rights inherent to all its collectives.
We therefore demand that certain sectors of the Catholic Church recognise the need to firstly, admit to, and then put a stop to, their confessional arrogance and to accept that the future will necessarily imply a lay state and a lay society founded on the basis of respect and equality, without any privileges for a particular religion. Along the same lines, the Government must act in consequence with the principles laid down by an aconfessional state enshrined in the Constitution, legislate in accordance with the criteria of laicism and promote respect for diversity.
2/ Victims of neoliberalism
The neoliberal system is undergoing a continuous dynamic involving both development and expansion, leaving in its wake poverty and exclusion for men and women, peoples and regions. We claim, as of right, the ethical, moral option in favour of the underprivileged and denounce the legitimising support that different religious confessions give to neoliberalism. To give but one example, the way that, year after year, the Catholic authorities act in connivance with representatives of political and military power, as in the Corpus Christi procession in Valencia, is an expressive image of this perversion.
We therefore urge society as a whole and especially all the churches and religious traditions to work together to defend a clean, livable and sustainable planet; to promote relationships between men and women and peoples based on solidarity, cooperation and mutual respect; to become involved in working for a culture of peace, based on active non-violence and dialogue as efficient conflict-solving tools; in an active way to opt for the demilitarisation of states and nations as the only possible guarantee in the short or long-term, of a peace which is fair and long-lasting. All of us, including churches and religions, can prove our worth before future generations insofar as we bequeath them a culture of peace and life.
3/ Agreements between the Church and the State
The agreements signed by the Church and the Spanish state, on January 3, 1979, represent the origin of many of the overprivileged situations of the Catholic Church and its conflict with the Spanish state. These agreements generate an inequality between the Catholic Church and the other religious confessions and limit the freedom of the two signatories: moreover some aspects of these agreements could easily be classified as inconstitutional. We therefore defend their denunciation and abolition.
4/ The Vatican State
The fact that this tiny, anachronic, artificial and theocratic state, whose head is the Pope, exists, and is internationally recognised, is a privilege and attribute of power that damages the representativeness of the international organization of nations. We would also like to point out that the Vatican has not signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We therefore advocate the suppression and non-recognition of this State.
5/ Educational System and Religion
We defend a public, lay, democratic, Valencian, educational system of quality. Such a system is incompatible with the imposition of the teaching of religion defended by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, it is incompatible with the Catholic Church’s influence over the configuration and management of the educational system according to discriminatory criteria on the basis of sex, social background …, it is incompatible with the Church’s monopoly regarding the transmission of life and cultural values or with any other monopoly.
The challenge of social cohesion afforded to us by young people and multiculturality make it necessary for the State to create and guarantee the conditions for equal opportunities so that all citizens may exercise freedom in the future.
6/ Culture and the Valencian language
The tendency to censure freedom of thought, of artistic and scientific expression, in a word, of culture, is a sadly characteristic trait that has endured throughout the centuries of history of the Catholic Church. It is not strange to meet with prohibitions and coercion of public administration instigated by the religious hierarchy against theatrical performances, music festivals, exhibitions … We demand the complete independence of society and public institutions in the face of ecclesiastic stratagems to favour censorship.
On the other hand, since the time of the ill-fated archbishop Mayoral, nearly 300 years ago, the Church has practiced a linguistic cleaning of Valencian. Writers like Ramon Llull, Ausiàs March, Joanot Martorell, Sor Isabel de Villena, Francesc Eiximenis, among many others, testify to the literary contribution that we have bequeathed to humanity. Similarly, the Church, and especially its leaders, has routinely united with the powerful who have eliminated the cultural traits of our people and have expelled from their social practices our language. We emphatically denounce, as an outrage against inculturalization and human rights, the compulsory imposition of the Spanish language that the Church of the Valencian country has suffered as well as the decisive role that the Church has played in the imposition of specifically Spanish values on our society and as a result, we demand a redress of this violation of a human right.
7/ Ostentation and misery
A society’s ethical maturity is revealed in the way it treats those on the lowest rungs of the social ladder and by the priority of objectives in the distribution of public money.
In a democratic society, it is up to the citizens to assess public events and it is they that have the final say. In the first place, before the forthcoming visit of the Pope, we demand moderation in the use of public money, simplicity and sobriety and financial transparency: where do the financial resources come from, who is contributing money, how much and what is it being invested in, etc. We should never forget that just a few hundred metres away from where a platform costing 130 million pesetas is being put up, immigrants eke out a miserable existence under a bridge because the local authorities in Valencia do not have a hostel for them.
8/ Family diversity
. Over the last decades we have witnessed a profound transformation of family structures in our society. There are traditional families, extended or nuclear, single-parent, reconstructed, homoparent families, families with and without children, unmarried families. Women’s liberation, the recognition of rights for gays, lesbians, transsexuals and bisexuals and their legal expression in the form of same gender marriage, civil unions, divorce, filiation … all form a part of this evolution that comes up against the intolerant opposition from the most reactionary sectors of our society, who oppose any change that implies a loss of the symbolic and real power that they hold over society in this field.
Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals and, also unmarried mothers, divorced persons … are collectives that have been stigmatised, even condemned to death and burnt throughout history. The Catholic Church too has its hands dirty with blood and ignominy. Contrary to what we could expect, at a moment when the Spanish Government is making the right to divorce more flexible and extending the right to civil marriage, far from seeking to amend its historical misdeeds, the Catholic hierarchy insists with its vehement and stubborn opposition and takes to the streets to demonstrate its rejection of love between same gender persons, a rejection which it did not demonstrate in the protests against the Iraq war or in so many other social protests.
We wish to remind the Pope and the catholic hierarchy that the right to legislate concerning families, marriage or divorce belongs to the Government and not to the Church. The Church only has authority over the sacraments and not over the civil law on marriage. To forget this fact is to return to National-Catholicism, of such wretched memory, and the responsibility of the Catholic Church with the role it played in the fascist military coup of 1936 and later during Franco’s regime, which has a great deal to answer for, as it actively collaborated with genocide and has never made an act of contrition or recognised its offences.
Churches, some more than others, are institutions that are profoundly marked by patriarchy and male chauvinism. Throughout history, they have generated a misogynous theology that has considered women as prime instigators of all evils, especially those related to sex. This could scarcely have been otherwise if we recall that the generation of theological texts and the governance of churches has been in the hands of celibate theologians and clergymen. Despite all this, thanks to their tenacious and constant struggle, women have been able to secure situations of equality in civilian society. Against this emancipatory tendency, the Catholic hierarchy has adopted a rhetorical stand that loads with praise the excellencies of womankind, but, in practice, precludes their freedom of choice and even justifies the abuse of women. We therefore denounce this spurious and misogynous rhetoric and demand complete equality for women. We must stamp out any discourse or practice that discriminates against women.
10/ Reproductive rights and sexual health
The use of contraceptives in our sexual life is something that has most contributed to making sexual relationships more human and to endow them with responsibility in reproductive decisions. Fully responsible motherhood and fatherhood are possible thanks to contraceptives, assisted reproduction and in vitro fertilization. We are therefore opposed to the Church’s doctrine that condemns them and request that, insofar as it is influencing the policies of states and the personal decisions of individuals, the Church review, using interdisciplinary criteria, its traditional stand on all aspects related to sex.
Reproductive rights are internationally recognised as an integral part of human rights and stipulate that both men and women should have control of their sexuality and, in particular, their contraceptive methods, and be able to decide if they wish to have children, and when and how. They also imply recognition of diverse sexual options to be able to live a joyful, free and safe sexuality. We therefore demand that these rights be guaranteed in the name of the autonomy of women.
11/ Contraceptives, AIDS and social stigma
Contraceptives are the most appropriate means to maintain safer sexual relations and are the means that the World Health Organization (WHO) advocates to check the AIDS pandemic. We hold that the hierarchy of the Church is an accomplice to this pandemic with its incredible condemnation of this means of preventing sexual disease, one that is necessary to enable people to maintain responsible and healthy sexual relationships.
It is absolutely essential to do away with the punitive messages sent out from the pulpit which have intentionally portrayed AIDS as a divine punishment. We understand that the HIV-AIDS stigma is directly related to the availability of antirretroviral medicines, and thus we need to speak out in order to guarantee the appropriate treatment to all those people who live with HIV, with the aim of helping to minimise the suffering caused by the AIDS stigma.
In this day and age, we humans have access to a great amount of scientific knowledge which has explained many of the questions that have been asked related to the processes that originated life. Constant progress in genetic and biotechnological research has afforded us therapeutical opportunities to cure and prevent many illnesses that hitherto have been incurable. To improve life, to make life healthier and more human, is one of a scientist’s most noble tasks: Although the fact that something can be done does not mean that it should be done – because ethics is inseparable from scientific research – we fail to understand the Church’s decision to oppose and condemn, on principle, scientific research and the possibility of putting science at the service of human beings.
On the threshold of an epoch full of hope in the field of life, we desperately need a common and intercultural search for a bioethics that promotes and proves the worth of human responsibility. Truth is not to be had and held: it is to be sought as it is the sum of many truths. And new certainties always come along. When one truth excludes all others, it ceases to be truth because doubt forms an essential part of truth.
In the last analysis, the basic difference between the social model defended by the Vatican and those proposed by the entities that support this Declaration is that we respect ideological diversity and its expression in the laws and norms of living together that always seek to promote freedom and responsibility so that it is people who can take decisions. The official discourse of the Catholic Church, and of many religions, attempts to impose its idiosyncratic ideology on all citizens, through the laws and norms of living together, independently of whether we actually share their moral viewpoint. We wish to denounce the excluding and exclusive nature that characterises religious discourse.
For all these reasons we invite society and its citizens to express their critical position freely and actively. Out of a sense of responsibility and dignity.