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Fernández Martínez v. Spain, No. 56030/07, ECtHR (Grand Chamber), 12 June 2014

Type Judgment
Case number 56030/07


Catholic priest, teacher of religion, civilly married, father of five children and supporter of a movement opposing Church doctrine. Non-renewal of its contract in a State school. Non-violation of Article 8 of the ECHR.

Normative references

Art. 8 ECHR
Art. 9 ECHR
Art. 11 ECHR


1. “Private life” is a broad term not susceptible to exhaustive definition. It would be too restrictive to limit the notion of “private life” to an “inner circle” in which the individual may live his own personal life as he chooses and to exclude therefrom entirely the outside world not encompassed within that circle. Therefore, there is no reason of principle why the notion of “private life” should be taken to exclude professional activities. Restrictions on an individual’s professional life may fall within Article 8 where they have repercussions on the manner in which he or she constructs his or her social identity by developing relationships with others. In addition, professional life is often intricately linked to private life, especially if factors relating to private life, in the strict sense of the term, are regarded as qualifying criteria for a given profession.

2.  When the Court is called upon to rule on a conflict between two rights that are equally protected by the Convention, such as the applicant’s right to his private and family life, on the one hand, and the right of religious organisations to autonomy, on the other, it must weigh up the interests at stake. The State is called upon to guarantee both rights and if the protection of one leads to an interference with the other, to choose adequate means to make this interference proportionate to the aim pursued. In this context, the Court accepts that the State has a wide margin of appreciation.

3. As a consequence of their autonomy, religious communities can demand a certain degree of loyalty from those working for them or representing them. The nature of the post occupied by those persons is an important element to be taken into account when assessing the proportionality of a restrictive measure taken by the State or the religious organisation concerned. In particular, the specific mission assigned to the person concerned in a religious organisation is a relevant consideration in determining whether that person should be subject to a heightened duty of loyalty.
(The applicant, a Catholic priest, taught religion in a State school. While waiting to be dispensed from the impediment of celibacy, the man had contracted a civil marriage, delighted by the birth of five children. The subsequent papal rescript, containing the dispensation provision, noted that the applicant could no longer teach the Catholic religion in public institutions, unless the competent bishop decided otherwise, verifying the absence of "scandal". Therefore, the teacher's annual contract was not subsequently renewed. The Court finds that the State authorities correctly balanced the applicant's right to private and family life and the Church's right to autonomy)


The Court notes that unlike the situation in previous cases (Siebenhaar, Schüth and Obst, all against Germany), where the applicants were employed by their respective Churches, the applicant in the present case, like all religious-education teachers in Spain, was employed and remunerated by the State. However, that aspect – the Court states – is not such as to affect the extent of the duty of loyalty imposed on the applicant in the face of the Catholic Church or the measures that the latter is entitled to adopt if that duty is breached.