MADRID, Spain -- The conflict between Spain's 10-month-old Socialist government and the Roman Catholic Church broke into the open today in a confrontation over control of the nation's school system.
The Cortes, or Parliament, was scheduled today to begin considering the government's proposed law to loosen the church's considerable influence on education in Spain, which is 95 percent Catholic.
At the same time, the Catholic Bishops' Committee on Education called an emergency session to decide whether to obey a government order that the church withdraw two elementary school religion textbooks containing strong anti-abortion language.
The Education Ministry Friday banned the two books from Catholic and other schools that receive direct public funds, saying the church printed and distributed the texts without the required government approval.
In the books, abortion is equated with war and terrorism. Education officials said they had been negotiating over the language with church representatives when they learned the books already had gone to press.
Government officials said the dispute was purely jurisdictional. But it was colored by Socialist plans to allow therapeutic abortions for the first time in Spain over strong ecclesiastical objections.
Both the education reform and abortion laws are assured of passage this fall by the Socialist majority in the Cortes.
The president of the Spanish Bishop's Conference, Monsignor Gabino Diaz Merchan of Oviedo, indicated during the weekend the church would not comply with the government order.
He said the order 'would represent censorship and would go against the treaty signed (in 1979) between the Spanish state and the Vatican.'
The 1979 agreement was negotiated to define the church's role in democratic Spain following the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco, under whose regime Roman Catholicism was the official state religion.
Although the agreement removed some of the church's authority over schooling, it left it with direct state subsidies for its schools and a certain amount of educational independence.
Education Ministry officials said the government was given authority to approve textbooks under a 1980 education statute.
The new scholastic law being considered by the Cortes is aimed at giving the government more control over the curriculum of state-subsidized schools. It also would provide for parents and students to sit on school councils with a role in administration.