Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Mending fences: there's not a lot left to mend

Spain and Vatican to test waters

Bilateral tensions will be in the air at Friday meeting

(ANSA) - Madrid, February 14 - The Vatican and Spain will have a chance on Friday to take steps towards improving a relationship made uneasy by Madrid's recent measures on religious education and 'gay marriage'.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose nation is set for a papal visit in July, is scheduled to meet Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Sodano in the Vatican.

Contact between the Vatican and the Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been minimal over the last year, a period during which the Spanish Catholic hierarchy has complained of a "drift of values" in the country.

No member of the Zapatero government has yet been received by Pope Benedict.

The obvious reason for Friday's meeting between Sodano and Moratinos is to arrange details for the pope's trip to Valencia on July 8, when he will attend an international event organised by the Catholic Church to celebrate the family.

But it will also be an opportunity for the two sides to discuss relations, which have become difficult in the wake of some of the reforms pursued by Zapatero's administration.

The Catholic Church is extremely hostile to Spain's new legislation on unions between unmarried couples and same-sex partners, seeing them as a threat to the traditional family based on marriage between heterosexuals.

Another local development which has alarmed the Vatican regards the teaching of religion in Spanish schools. Hundreds of thousands of Spanish Catholics protested in November after the government presented a bill to make religion classes optional.

The visit by Moratinos to the Vatican comes a few days before the nomination of Spain's new ambassador to the Holy See, a Catholic Socialist who has been chosen to "improve" relations with Rome.

The pope will have a perfect platform to speak out on the gay marriage theme when he attends the Catholic 'family forum' in Valencia. Most analysts think it unlikely that he will pass up the chance.

The German pontiff is to spend about 24 hours in Spain, leaving after a public mass on July 9.

Spain's entire Catholic community is said to be mobilising for the event and the world's 4,000 bishops have been asked to attend.

Ever since the Madrid bombings, Spain has moved to the left. At this point with the current government of socialists, I'm not sure at all whether there is a concrete way for Spain and the Holy See to improve relations short of the socialists changing their minds on a lot of proposals. That would not do a whole lot to soothe the traditional Catholics of Spain, but it would alienate the socialist base. That's not how governments stay in office.

The trip to Valencia will be interesting to watch.

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