Suspension of Catholic Services at the University of Barcelona Due to Protests by Secular Students

Country: Spain

Date of incident: January 31, 2011

At the University of Barcelona protests by a group of secular students against the Catholic liturgical service on campus, including the interruption of the service, led to a cancelation of the weekly Wednesday Mass - until the University would be able to guarantee the safety of attending students.

The Spanish newspaper ABC reported that shortly after the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in Barcelona at the beginning of November 2010, a group of self-proclaimed "secular-progressive" students attempted to boycott one of the Masses celebrated at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Barcelona. Since the protests began, the ceremonies at the chapel were celebrated under police protection.

The continued attacks on the chapel reached a climax on December 15th, 2010 when a group of 40 students burst into the chapel with ringing cell phones and food packages. They interrupted the mass celebrated by the monsignor Lluís Ramis, one of the two university chaplains. Catholic students sent a letter of complaint to the rector. Father Lluís Ramis told ABC newspaper, "What happens on many Wednesdays in the Chapel of the Faculty of Economics has no justification;" and he added, “It is deplorable and outrageous“ that these kinds of boycotts are taking place, because they “prevent people from freely expressing their beliefs, and this can not be allowed.” 

"No more Masses will be celebrated until the university can guarantee the safety of students who wish to attend the liturgy" was the decision taken on January 12th, 2011 by the representatives of the University of Barcelona at a three-hour meeting with representatives of the Catholic Church. The authorities have considered the installation of a direct entrance to the campus chapel as one of the security measure for Catholics who want to attend a Mass.

The university has maintained an agreement with the Archbishop of Barcelona (dating from 1988) which ensures that an area on campus can be used for Catholic liturgies. “Article 18 of the Human Rights Act and our own Constitution guarantee this right,” added Father Ramis.

Following the decision to suspend the liturgy, the University screens those who wish to enter the chapel. Catholics must identify themselves and ask permission from university administrators. Despite these measures, some professors say they have not been allowed access to the chapel. 

The parish of Saint Anthony of Padua reported on its website that the protesting anti-Catholic group consists of about 40 students and a handful of professors. This "anti-chapel group“ demands the University to be open to public debate, but not to allow religion and religious activity within the university space.

The Dean of the Faculty of Economics, on whose premises the chapel is located, posted on their website a statement saying that they will do everything they can to preserve "the exercise of fundamental rights (such as the right to religous freedom and worship) and the right to free expression."

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