Her uplifting Christian name aside, Resurreccion Galera would seem to have what it takes to teach Roman Catholicism to children, something she has been doing for seven years. Galera, 36, comes from a devout family in the southern Spanish city of Almería, studied theology, has a beatific smile, a gentle voice. Some of her students at the Ferrer Guardia primary school, 25 km from her home in Níjar, have mistakenly called her mamá, laughing and correcting themselves. "With small children you are not teaching the sacraments but the broad ideas of Jesus," she says. "Love for one another, sharing, ways for people to live together peacefully."
A year ago, Galera did something that has now cost her the job she cherished. She got married. Her husband, also Catholic, has a Spanish-sounding name, Johannes Maria Romes, but is German. The problem with Romes, 53, a freelance translator who for 20 years worked in the press department of the Bundestag, the German parliament, is that he is divorced. "I am hoping for an annulment of that marriage, which ended in 1975," says Romes in unaccented Spanish. Meanwhile, he and Galera wed in a civil ceremony in Níjar in September last year. "I did not want to just live together," she says.
But as every Catholic knows, the only accepted ways to remove the lock from wedlock are death or annulment. Living quietly on their small holding in the arid hills behind this town of 1,500 souls, Galera and Romes remain technically "in sin." Some kind citizen drew this fact to the attention of the office of the bishop of Almería, Rosendo Alvarez.
If Galera had hoped her private life would remain just that, or that her Church would show her as much flexibility as it did the African archbishop who recently married within the Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, she was wrong. But then she was never going to renounce the man she loves. This decision has cost her her job. Never mind that Spain is a lay state under its 1978 constitution, that Ferrer Guardia is a state school, or that her monthly salary of just under $1,000 was paid not by the Church but by the regional government of Andalucía.
The devil is in the detail, itís said, and for Galera the relevant one is a 1979 agreement signed between the Spanish government and the Vatican that gives local bishops the right to approve teachers of religion in state schools. These teachers have contracts for only 12 months, the bishopsí offices supplying annual lists to regional governments of those who meet its Declaración Eclesiástica de Idoneidad, or suitability.
The Almería bishopís office simply cut Galeraís name from the list for the school year that started last month. She says she received nothing in writing but was informed of the omission by José Ferre, the schoolís headmaster. Ferre confirmed this last week, adding that, being a state employee, he did not want to give his own opinion.
Galeraís fall has made headlines around Spain, bringing to light several similar cases. One involves a woman who, after 13 years teaching religion, was dropped from the "suitable" list because allegedly she did not attend Mass frequently enough and visited bars with male colleagues.
The reaction of many Spaniards is summed up by Isabél Montoya, owner of the Glorieta cafe opposite Níjarís 15th century church: "Why canít you be a good teacher of religion and have your own private life? Itís worse when you know Resu and Johannes. They are good people." Bishop Alvarez will not comment, but his office lets it be known that Galera wants to have her cake and eat it, to teach a doctrine she does not live by. A spokeswoman for the bishop says Galera has not been dismissed; her contract simply hasnít been renewed. "The Church does not condemn this woman, who has made her own decision." But in various Sunday sermons since Romes took his wifeís case to the media, Galera has been called an adulterer and a concubine. One priest said for her to continue teaching religion would be "like the Taliban teaching democracy."
The central government of Prime Minister José María Aznar says the pact with the Vatican is binding and shows no inclination to renegotiate it. The opposition Spanish Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist regional government and even a recent congress of Spanish theologians have insisted that no treaty should override the constitution or the labor laws, both of which prohibit discrimination based on marital status.
Backed by one of the big labor unions, Galera and Romes plan to go to the Spanish courts, to the European Commission, to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if necessary. "In the Middle Ages some of these bishops would have had me burned alive," says Galera. She says she has tried to shelter her former pupils from the storm. "Some ask what bad thing I did to be sacked. I just say it has been decided that someone married to a divorced person is not allowed teach them. One boy aged eight was very worried. He said, ĎMy dadís divorced. What will happen to him?í" Clearly, the lad needs some lessons.