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 Spanish Catholics protest new way to hide costs of 2011 papal visit Spanish Catholics protest new way to hide costs of 2011 papal visit

A tax dodge gives the impression that multinationals paid for the Pope’s trip to Spain in 2011. Yet despite record unemployment among Spanish young people, taxpayers subsidised the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day and the papal visit. Protests came from unemployed youth and Catholic groups of laymen and priests. The Pope’s wealthy corporate sponsors paid for only 20% of “their” donations.

The Pope visited Spain in August 2011 for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day. The WYD is a recurring Catholic festival held to evangelise young people. It was clear that this would face opposition, since in May the jobless rate among Spain’s “lost generation” of young people reached nearly 45 percent, a record in any industrialised country. So the question was how to get public money without adverse publicity.

For previous World Youth Day the Vatican sought funding from the European Union. Perhaps feeling that this mightn’t work a second time, and that obliging the (socialist) Spanish Government to pay the whole tab might backfire, the Vatican lined up 40 corporate sponsors for the WYD in Madrid.

The official WYD website showed a hierarchy of donors: Partner, Sponsor, Friend, Media Partner and 2011 Business. Only the contribution of this last, lowest level was revealed: a 2011 Business sponsor provided € 2011 per month in cash or in kind to the WYD. For this they got to polish their “corporate images” through well-publicised donations, they were invited to a private audience with the Pope in the Vatican and (depending upon one's worldview) a good investment in the hereafter. Then, through a tax rebate, they quietly got all but 20 percent of it back. This means that, in addition to all the other expenses for this religious festival to fall on the Spanish taxpayers, they also paid for 80 percent of the donations of the Pope’s corporate sponsors.

The Christian Network, which brings together 147 liberal Catholic groups in Spain, has spoken out against this drain on the public purse. Their booklet about the papal visit is summarised by the following news story.

Grass-roots Christians oppose the Pope’s visit

 Cristianos de base se oponen a la visita del PapaEl Plural, 27 May 2011 

Criticism is being voiced about spending some 50 million euros in the midst of a crisis in order to consolidate “the privileges of the Catholic Church in a nonconfessional state”. The World Youth Day (WYD) which will take place from 16-21 August this year in Madrid is being questioned not only by atheist and secular groups, but also by the Church’s own grass-roots Christians who question the spending of “around 50 million euros” on an event “too focused on the Pope” and in the midst of a severe economic crisis.

In a document published online Christian Network.Net, grass-roots Christians, are questioning devoting so many resources to “the consolidation of the privileges of the Catholic Church in a secular State like ours”, and wonder if “it would be better to invest this money in social work”.

No consensus

Moreover, the grass-roots Christians complain that “official messages being transmitted from the organization of WYD do not come from the consensus that it would have been necessary to reach among all sectors of the Church in Spain.”

The model presented to young people and the world

The Christian groups that make up Network reported that the WYD in Madrid “presents to young people and the world a model of the Church that still holds in the 21st century as a pyramidal structure that is not democratic”.

The World Youth Day sponsors

Christian Network points out that the organization and funding of World Youth Day is the responsibility of the “Madrid Vivo Foundation”, whose sponsors include:

Emilio Botin, head of Santander, the largest bank in the Eurozone. In 2011, the Botín family paid about €200 million in back taxes to avoid charges of tax evasion against Mr. Botín and 11 of his relatives involving a Swiss investment account inherited from his father. Spain's national court closed a tax-fraud investigation focused on the family, without bringing charges. Both Botín’s family and his bank are close to Opus Dei and two known members who were senior bankers at Santander joined the supervisory council of the Vatican Bank in 2009: Ettore Gotti Tedeschi and Manuel Soto Serrano). "To better penetrate the circles of power, Santander makes a practice of fully funding youth who take courses in universities linked to Opus Dei, where they will be "indoctrinated". The bank has been paying for the studies of relatives of lawyers, politicians, owners and directors of media." *

— Inigo Oriol, former president of Iberdrola, Spain’s biggest power company and one of the largest utility companies in the world,

— Gerardo Díaz Ferrán, president of the CEOE, the Spanish Confederation of Employers' Organizations,

— Catalina Luca de Tena, editor of ABC, Spain’s third-largest national daily, generally known as monarchist and conservative,

— Salvador Santos Campano, president of the Madrid Chamber of Commerce,

— Cesar Alierta, Chairman of Telefónica, the number one Spanish multinational by market capitalisation and one of the largest private telecommunications companies in the world,

BBVA, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, a multinational Spanish banking group,

La Caixa, Europe’s leading savings bank and Spain's third largest financial institution,

El Corte Ingles, the biggest department store group in Europe and fourth largest worldwide,

OHL, International Construction Group,

Iberia, the flag carrier airline of Spain,

Endesa, the largest electric utility company in Spain,

The Prisa Group, Spanish media conglomerate,

FCC, leading Spanish construction company,


The sponsors were received in July 2010 by Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

Companies will be reimbursed 80% of their outlay

Companies that contribute to the financing of the WYD may deduct up to 80% of the funds provided, because it has been declared “an event of exceptional public interest” in the State Budget of 2010, according to Christian Network in their paper, which states that the amounts contributed to the sponsorship will be subject to tax deductions under section 27 of the Taxation Act.

Sanitation, logistics, health and safety

Christian Network also points out that the three public administrations (National, Regional Government of Madrid and Madrid City Council) have agreed to fund and ensure the safety of the event, as well as matters relating to health, cleaning and logistics, which will cost between 20 and 25 million euros. (El Publico, 11 January 2011).


According to Christian Network, the Madrid Regional Government, in an agreement signed on June 22, 2010, has also offered “visitor discounts, to be determined” as well as places in “hostels, institutions and colleges”.


♦  Vatican’s “World Youth Day 2005” funded by European Union

♦  The secret costs of papal visits

♦  Papal trips both “pilgrimages” and “state visits” 


* The sister-in-law of Emilio Botín, Covadonga O’Shea, is a known member of Opus Dei: “Primark's expansion continues with 26th outlet in Spain”, The Irish Times, 1 May 2012.  

Opus Dei control of Santander is claimed by the editors of a rival financially savvy religious organisation:
“O banco do Opus Dei”, Fohla Universal, 22 January 2012.

The Spanish for World Youth Day (WYD) is Jornada Mundial de la Juventud (JMJ).

“Youth Protests Sweep Spain As Unemployment Soars”, NPR, 26 May 2011.

“Cost of Pope’s trip under fire in crisis-hit Spain”, AFP, 9 August 2011. 

“Protest at Cost of Pope’s Visit to Spain”, Suite101, 11 August 2011.




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