Spain's King Juan Carlos to Abdicate

Crown Prince Felipe to Take Over Catholic Throne

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King Juan Carlos of Spain is to abdicate, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced today.

The 76 year-old Catholic monarch has ruled since 1975, taking over after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.

The king’s son, Georgetown University graduate Crown Prince Felipe, 45, will become Spain’s new monarch.

King Juan Carlos, a member of the House of Bourbon, became Spain’s first reigning monarch since the previous monarchy ended in 1931. Although a supporter of Franco, he introduced reforms to dismantle the regime after the dictator’s death and begin Spain’s transition to democracy.

For much of his reign, Juan Carlos was seen as one of the world’s most popular monarchs, but support for him and the royal family has waned in recent years.

The Spanish royals have been hit with a long-running corruption investigation into the king’s daughter and her husband. Many Spaniards also resented revelations of a lavish elephant hunting trip the king made to Botswana in the middle of Spain’s financial crisis.

Rajoy said the king was stepping down for personal reasons. His health is failing and he has had a number of hip operations in recent years.

The prime minister said Juan Carlos had been a «tireless defender of our interests», the BBC reported. «I’m convinced this is the best moment for change,» he added.

According to the Spanish Constitution, the monarch is the head-of-state and commander-in-chief of the Spanish Armed Forces and also plays a role in promoting Ibero-American relations, the «nations of its historical community».

In 1962, King Juan Carlos married Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark, daughter of King Paul of Greece. Greek Orthodox, she converted to Roman Catholicism in order to become Spain’s queen. An Orthodox wedding took place in Athens, and then a Catholic one in the Pauline Chapel of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

The Spanish monarch is traditionally ex officio protocanon of the basilica’s chapter.

The king and queen attended the canonizations of Sts. John Paul II and John XXIII on April 27 this year, and the following day were received in private audience by Pope Francis.

The meeting, which was described as “amicable”, involved discussions about good relations between the Holy See and Spain, which have been increasingly consolidated since the king came to the throne in 1975. 

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