Catholic bishops in Spain have bitterly criticized new laws liberalizing abortion and gender reassignment in their latest clash with the Socialist-led government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

"We are not doing well -- indeed, we are following a path of ruin for the person and society," Bishop Demetrio Fernández of Córdoba said in a Feb. 26 letter to the faithful. "It is as if all the demons had been unleashed, and we see lies, violence, human rights violations and evil in all its forms emerging everywhere. We cannot confront such evil with a political program -- the demons can only be expelled with prayer and fasting."

The bishop made the comments as new laws were enforced allowing 16-year-olds to obtain abortions up to 14 weeks without informing their parents, and to re-register their gender without medical or legal procedures.

The new "Organic Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health," enacted Feb. 16 by 185 votes to 154 in Spain's 350-seat Congress of Deputies, also will criminalize prayers outside abortion clinics and introduce a registry of doctors who refuse to terminate pregnancies. In addition, the law liberalizes sex education and provides free morning-after pills.

The "Law for Real and Effective Equality of Trans Persons and Guaranteeing LGBT Rights," also enacted Feb. 16 against opposition from feminist groups and Spain's General Judiciary Council, will allow those over age 12 to declare a gender change with court approval.

Parallel measures, enacted in 2014 by Denmark, also were adopted Feb. 1 for those over 18 in Finland but have been blocked over the past year in Sweden, France and the United Kingdom.

Bishop Fernández said animals currently enjoyed more rights in Spain than unborn children, and urged an awakening of consciences in "a society which seems numbed and drugged."

Meanwhile, another bishop said Spain's "social, cultural, familial and personal crisis" was reflected in the political scene, adding that the country needed leaders "who listen to their consciences before consulting the polls."

"This all began decades ago with the secularization process, and it has led to an eclipse of reason and conscience," Bishop José Ignacio Munilla of Orihuela-Alicante said in a Lenten pastoral letter.

"There is no truth or falsehood, no right or wrong -- there is only politics, which has become the art of creating the necessary synergies to generate the majority needed for exercising and retaining power," wrote the bishop.

In a Feb. 22 homily, Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid said life and peace were being "ravaged and endangered daily" not only by violence and armed conflicts, but also by "such practices as abortion and euthanasia," adding that defending life had become "the new frontier" for addressing social questions.

Meanwhile, the new laws also were criticized, in a rare intervention, by the Vatican's nuncio to Spain, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, who told a Feb. 21 conference at Madrid's Catholic Francisco de Vitoria University the Sanchez government was "focused too much on objectives the church does not share."

He added that a government-backed Animal Welfare Law, adopted Feb. 9, suggested more resources were devoted to protecting "threatened species" than "unborn children," and said he regretted current legislation prescribing "18 months in prison for killing a rat, while everything is facilitated for performing an abortion."

Sánchez became Spain's first head of government to decline to take his inaugural oath on the Bible in June 2018, and formed a left-wing coalition with the radical Podemos party in January 2020 under a 50-page program pledging liberal changes.

New laws have since secularized education and permitted state-funded euthanasia, while a planned Ley de Familia, or Family Law, will recognize 16 different family types.

Local councils also have been empowered to remove Catholic symbols from public places and the government has pledged to review a series of 1979 agreements with the Vatican, while a Democratic Memory Law, adopted in October, will ban crosses and monuments deemed to exalt the former dictatorship of General Francisco Franco (1892-1975) and place Spain's Valley of the Fallen civil war memorial under secular, rather than Catholic, management.

Spain's conservative opposition Partido Popular and Vox parties, which have opposed the new laws, have accused the coalition of overturning the country's system of values and violating the constitution and international law.

Meanwhile, in a 108-page statement Jan. 13, the Spanish bishops' conference listed recent moves which prioritized the "absolute power of the individual," and said Spanish families had been placed "at the center of controversies and ideological polarizations," at a time when a third of the population lived in poverty and the national birth rate had dropped by 35% in 15 years.

Although vocations and Mass attendance have dropped sharply across the church's 70 dioceses and 23,000 parishes, 53.7% of Spain's 47 million inhabitants still identify as Catholics, according to January data, and the church projects a strong influence through a large network of schools and charitable institutions.

In a survey published Feb. 27 by Spain's Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (CIS), 73% of practicing Catholics said they would vote in May local elections and December parliamentary elections, with half pledging to back Partido Popular and Vox.

At a Feb. 28 Madrid press conference, church finance officers said a record 8.5 million Spaniards had assigned a share of taxes to the church in 2022, giving it more than $340 million, almost a quarter of its total income.

Spanish pro-life organizations launched a Lenten campaign against the new laws Feb. 22, and are to stage "Yes to Life" rallies across the country March 12, while a Federation of Pro-Life Associations is holding a national congress March 3-4 against the "wall of violence, ignorance, injustice, lies and manipulation of the culture of death."

In his letter, Bishop Fernández urged Catholics to consider which other "concrete actions" they could take during Lent in the "fierce struggle between the cultures of death and life."

Meanwhile, Bishop Munilla said he regretted crimes previously sanctioned by Spain's penal code had been redefined "to guarantee support for those who commit them," as the Constitutional Court, which enshrined a right to life in 1985, now "blessed a law recognizing the right to elective abortions."

Another church leader, Bishop Jesús Pulido of Coria-Cáceres, told the Periódico Extremadura weekly Feb. 26 framers of the new laws had "dispensed with scientific, moral and religious considerations," adding he was confident the measures would eventually be "reversed."

"The right to life isn't a civil right, but a fundamental human right -- and a pregnancy isn't a bodily condition to be cured, but a new life that is germinating," the bishop said.