The Spanish Catholic Church has agreed with the central government to return a thousand real estate assets that it improperly registered in its name between 1998 and 2015. Most of these are plots of land and other properties that did not belong to the church: they were owned by a third party or the catholic church did not know who was its owner, they say now.
The decision to return these properties was announced by the central government and the Spanish Episcopal Conference in a joint statement after a meeting in Madrid between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the head of the Spanish Catholic Church, the Cardinal Archbishop of Barcelona Juan Jose Omella.
In practice, the announcement means that approximately one thousand assets that until now were in the hands of the Catholic Church may be returned to their legitimate owners. And if the owners were not found, they would be returned to the municipalities where they are located.
Between 1998 and 2015, the Catholic Church registered 34,961 properties located throughout the country in its name, according to data published by the Government. The origin is in a law approved in 1998 by the government then headed by Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
Of these, 20,014 were religious temples or complementary facilities, while 14,947 were properties with other uses (agricultural land, plots, homes, premises, and even a fronton).
In February 2021, the then Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo released a government report in which all the properties registered between 1998 and 2015 were compiled. That list has been the basis for the central government and the Catholic Church to create a working group to address the problem of irregular property registrations.
An 'in-depth' study
The Catholic Church claims to have undertaken an "in-depth" study of the Government's list, which consisted of enumerating the real estate assets, their division by diocese and verification of the registration processes. This study has revealed that there are at least a thousand assets "belonging to a third party" or whose owner is unknown to the church.
A process will be initiated on these properties that will allow claiming ownership.
Most of the real estate assets registered by the Catholic Church between 1998 and 2015 are located in the Spanish regions of Castilla y Leon, Galicia and Catalonia.