Zapatero seeks to sideline row with bishops through Vatican

Other News Materials 15 February 2008 15:09 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Spain's governing Socialists are trying to sideline their disputes with the country's Catholic Church by reinforcing relations directly with the Vatican, press reports said Friday.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero had dinner with the Vatican ambassador to Spain on Thursday, complaining to him about the "interferences" of Spanish bishops in politics ahead of the March 9 elections.

Zapatero told Manuel Monteiro de Castro that his government wanted to boost relations with the Holy See in the framework of mutual respect.

The three-hour meeting described by Zapatero as "cordial" stood in contrast with the government's acrimonious relations with the Spanish Bishops' Conference.

Some bishops have accused the government of weakening democracy with reforms such as homosexual marriage, and the Bishops' Conference issued a document criticizing policies including the government's failed attempt to negotiate with violent Basque separatists.

The church's criticisms of the government have coincided partly with those by the conservative opposition, giving the Socialists the impression that the church was backing the opposition in the elections.

Spanish bishops now saw Zapatero as trying to sideline them by communicating directly with the Vatican, the daily El Mundo reported.

"We do not feel frightened, because our support is Jesus Christ, not the Socialist Party," Pamplona archbishop Fernando Sebastian said.

Socialist representative Alfonso Guerra said Friday the bishops' interference in elections made them resemble Iranian ayatollahs.

The bishops' behaviour might make the Socialists reconsider the traditional cooperation between state and church, Guerra said.

The Spanish state is non-confessional, but the Catholic Church gets substantial state funds through voluntary taxes paid by its members, subsidies to Catholic hospitals and schools and the like.