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113 Working Paper

"Une Messe est Possible":The Imbroglio of the Catholic Church in Contemporary Latin Europe

May 29, 2024 Paul Christopher Manuel and Margaret Mott


Throughout the contemporary period, the Church-State relationship in the nation-states of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal – which we will refer to as Latin Europe in this paper – has been a lively source of political conflict and societal cleavage, both on epistemological, and ontological grounds. Epistemological, in that the person living in Latin Europe has to decide whether his world view will be religious or secular; ontological, in that his mortality has kept some sense of the Catholic religion close to his heart and soul at the critical moments of his human reality. Secular views tend to define the European during ordinary periods of life, (“métro boulot dodo,”) while religious beliefs surge during the extraordinary times of life (birth, marriage, death,) as well as during the traditional ceremonial times (Christmas, Easter). This paper will approach the question on the role of the Catholic church in contemporary Latin Europe by first proposing three models of church-state relations in the region and their historical development, then looking at the role of the Vatican, followed by an examination of some recent Eurobarometer data on the views of contemporary Catholics in each country, and finishing with an analysis of selected public policy issues in each country. Throughout, it is interested in the dual questions of whether religion still plays an important role in Latin Europe, and whether or not the Catholic church is still able to influence the direction of public policies in the now democratic nation-states of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal.