Church registered 3,722 estates without title deeds over 70 years, says government
Religious institution was permitted to act as notary thanks to a Franco era law in force until 2015
The Catholic Church registered 3,722 estates in its name over 70 years spanning from 1946 to 2015 without any title deed demonstrating ownership.
This is what the Catalan government announced on Thursday from Sant Pere de Vallhonesta chapel, one of the sites where the controversy between individuals and the religious institution began.
The Church was able to register the estates across Catalonia by benefiting from a law dating from the dictator Francisco Franco's times that enabled the institution to act as a notary.
The law, in force between 1946 and 2015, permitted the Church to register estates not recorded in the land registration authority without any title deeds demonstrating ownership with only a bishop's signature.
The Catalan government will create an office to mediate between both sides in each contention. Yet, some of the individuals say that there is nothing to negotiate because the events are "illegal and a theft."
The Church, on the other hand, has defended its actions, with Archbishop of Urgell Joan-Enric Vives i Sicília calling the accusations "very unfair" and denying the Church's involvement in any illicit property seizures.
According to the archbishop, when the land registry was created in the 19th century, the Church was not allowed to claim properties that "everyone knew" were theirs.
Half of the contested estates are places of religious significance, such as chapels and cemeteries (1,855), while the rest are rural estates or civil buildings like rectories and palaces.
The Lleida region is that with most cases (58%), especially in the western Catalan Pyrenees. The towns of El Pont de Suert and Olesa de Bonesvalls are at the top of the ranking with 82 estates registered by the Church.
The Catalan government is the first administration in Spain that publishes the list of the controversial registrations. Indeed, it can be checked online.