Spanish Supreme Court: Catholic brotherhood may exclude women


Southern Europe

Lennart Nijenhuis,

Photo AFP, Zaid Al-Obeidi

The Spanish Supreme Court endorsed excluding women from a Catholic brotherhood in Tenerife in the Canary Islands after women protested it. "Would the same thing have been ruled if black people were excluded?"

In two earlier court cases, the Santa Cruz de Tenerife court and then the higher Tenerife court ruled against the statutes of the Pontifical, Royal and Venerable Slavery of the Holy Christ of La Laguna. The judges in those cases said that the exclusion of women violated the fundamental rights of equality. This was reported by the Spanish broadcaster RTVE.

However, the Supreme Court has upheld the appeal filed by the association that promotes a more perfect Christian life, as described on its website. The Court consequently dismissed the lawsuit that a woman named Teresa Laborda had promoted on behalf of 35 women who since 2008 had been asking for their admission.


The Court highlights, in a ruling made public on Wednesday, but dated December 23th, that the essential content of the right of association includes both the right to associate and the right to establish the organisation itself. This was reported by the Christian news portal Actuelidad Evangelica. This means that associations also have the right to statutorily regulate the causes and procedure for the admission and expulsion of members.

Besides the freedom of association, says the Court, is the freedom of religion important in this case.

Since the brotherhood, formed exclusively by men since 1659, is a private and religious organisation with no privileged or dominant position in the economic, social or professional field, it can hold on to its statutes. According to the Court, the association cannot be classified as a dominant association because "its activities and purposes are strictly and exclusively religious", therefore unrelated to any economic, professional or labour connotation.


Once the verdict was out, Teresa Laborda did not want to go in yesterday to assess it. "We are studying the sentence", she said, according to the local newspaper Diario de Avisos. The association was also not outspoken about the verdict. "We respect the judicial decisions in their entirety, and therefore, we do not enter into assessments".

Meanwhile, the Councilor for Equality of La Laguna, Idaira Afonso, stated that "it is an unpleasant surprise". According to her, "t is a pity that the name of La Laguna is linked right now to a sentence that discriminates and does not allow women access to an entity, be it religious or whatever."

The co-founder of the Association of Women Judges of Spain, Glòria Poyatos, wondered whether the Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court would have ruled the same if those excluded, instead of women, were black people.

A local party went even further by making a statement on Twitter saying that "we will take measures so that the brotherhood does not receive even one euro of public money while maintaining this exclusive and anti-egalitarian attitude."

Laborda does not agree with the verdict. She is now studying the possibility of taking this issue to the Constitutional Court.



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