Law bears down on bare students


REFERRING to four Madrid students arrested after they demonstrated inside the Complutense university chapel at Somosaguas, regional president Esperanza Aguirre avoided criticising the police or judges. But Aguirre, who did not witness the two topless girls or their kiss in front of the altar to the accompaniment of sexually provocative anti-Church slogans from around 50 students, did not mince her words.

“If this had happened in a mosque, it would not have resulted in arrests but something much more serious,” she declared.


The two girls and two boys were arrested on March 18 and released the same day but the debate continues.

There are four Catholic chapels at the six state universities in and around Madrid and they had no place in an officially non-confessional society, their opponents object.

The state should not favour any particular religion said Tohil Delgado, secretary general of Spain’s Students’ Union, who described the chapels as vestiges of the Church’s past privileges.

Asked if there was demand for church services on the campus, he replied that few students used the chapel: “If people don’t go to Mass on Sundays, even fewer go during study hours.”

“It’s not a question of whether the chapels upset anyone.  We reject them because public money should not sponsor religion.  It should be used for university places, education or the health service,” Delgado said.

Priest Feliciano Rodriguez, who oversees the Madrid university chapels, disagreed.  The chapels were frequented not just by practising Catholics but students wanting somewhere to think things over or, occasionally, someone to listen, he said.

The rector of the Somosaguas campus, Carlos Berzosa – not in favour of the university chapels – was under “a lot of pressure” to report the students, he said, and had himself received “senseless and unpleasant hounding.”  The arrests were disproportionate and unnecessary, he felt.

When the 50 or so demonstrators erupted into the Complutense chapel on March 10, only a couple of people were present in the small unprepossessing, graffiti-daubed building.

Nevetheless, the association “Manos Limpias” – whose prosecution of Judge Baltasar Garzon for investigating Franco’s war crimes was partly responsible for his suspension – began legal action against the students, accusing them of violating freedom of conscience and religious beliefs.

The four now face disciplinary action from the university and possible expulsion but if the Manos Limpias lawsuit goes ahead, they also risk four-year prison sentences.

Whatever the outcome, the Somosaguas chapel and the three others are likely to remain virtually empty.  Their scanty attendance is symptomatic of laicism in Spain, where three-quarters of the population describes itself as Catholic but only 15 per cent go to Mass each week.

This, not a tasteless demonstration inside a university chapel, could be the Church’s real problem.

By Annie Maples


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