A bitter battle has broken out between the Catholic Church and the Spanish Data Protection Agency, one that promises to redefine how one of Europes most Catholic countries views the Vatican.
The issue started two years ago when a group of apostates complained to the Spanish Data Protection Agency that the Catholic Church refused to delete their personal information. All births, marriages, divorces and deaths, along with other “sensitive” information is recorded and kept by the Catholic Church. These apostates, who for various reasons wanted to disassociate themselves from the Church, complained that while the Church would mark them down as having abandoned their faith, the papal authorities refused to delete the information from their files.
The Church justifies this stand by saying that the Church records are not subject to civil laws, but instead are controlled by Canonical Laws, which are separate from state laws.
Spanish Canonical Laws are a subset of the civil code that regulates the operation of the Catholic Church. It is considered to be a complete juridical code, with its own judges, lawyers, tribunals and two complete legal tomes. The basis of the Canonical Law comes from papal decrees issued from as long ago as 1234. The most recent overview and reissuing of the law came from the Vatican in 1990.
Now, Canonical Laws in Spain exists alongside, and in theory, subservient to, civil law. However, as a subset of national laws, both sets of laws are supposed to take each other into consideration when evolving or changing.
Normally this is not a problem, as the laws cover such issues as appointments inside the church, the formal order of services, and other church issues. However, they have now clashed with the data protection act versus the church retention of records act.
The Data Protection Agency claims that the Catholic Church is an organisation like any other, and must develop and maintain its records and data retention policy in the same way as any business or state body. That is, if you ask, the Church should delete all information being held on you.
The Church claims that their records are of a historical basis, protected from interference under the Protection of Historical Records Act (Ley de Patrimonio Historico) and, furthermore, being specifically contained within Canonical Laws, are exempt from the Data Protection Act (in the same way the security services are exempt, being specific examples cited in the law. Obviously, the police will not delete their records on you simply because you ask them to if you have a criminal record).
So far, the DPA has issued indictments on 564 cases this year alone, twice as many as last year. Each case has been rejected by the Church, which says that while it is happy to record that the person in question has renounced the Catholic Faith, it will not delete the personal information held.
This has now escalated to such an extent in the courts that the DPA has filed a petition for clarification to the courts. If the courts rule in favour of the DPA, then it will mean be a massive blow to the Church, undermining its authority and removing the legal basis for the Church to exist as a self regulating legal body. It could, in theory, open up the way for sex discrimination cases (why can’t women be Bishops?) and other cases.
If the courts rule against the DPA then it will be another massive set back for Enlightenment and set us back to the middle ages where we lived in thrall to the mere whisperings of the priests, women are locked in the home and scientists tarred and feathered for daring to try to make our lives better. And we have to daily sacrifice a goat to Jehovah, or whatever he calls himself these days.