Santiago de Compostela in Spain, with its ornate cathedral, is waiting to welcome Pope Benedict the 16th on a visit this weekend. The Pope is visiting Spain on his second trip there since becoming leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Another trip is planned for next year, such is the importance the church places on Spain, where over 70 per cent of people still describe themselves as Catholics. But only just over 14 per cent regularly attend mass. A decade of reforms on divorce, abortion and gay rights has eroded religious influence, and the church has loudly expressed its concern.
The iconic pilgrimage destination should welcome the Pontiff with open arms – but things in the rest of Spain might be different.
There has been a seismic shift in recent years – with laws allowing gay marriage, fast-track divorce and easier access to abortion.
But not everyone wants to see the Pope in Spain. Some are angry that they are being forced to foot the bill.The estimated cost to the taxpayer of the Pontiff’s trip to Spain will be around 3.7 million euros.
Greeted on arrival at Lavacolla airport by the Crown Prince Philip and Princess Letizia, Pope Benedict begins his trip in Saint Jacques de Compostella. On Sunday, he will move on to Barcelona where, 128 years after construction began, he will consecrate Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia as a cathedral.
On the first day of his visit, there are plenty of voices in Spain calling for Pope Benedict XVI to go home. A number of groups were in Santiago de Compostela to protest, ranging from anti-child abuse activists to gay rights campaigners, and women’s groups.
It is the Church’s recent tortuous negotiation of sex scandals in several countries and what some claim is the Pope’s refusal to confront the problem that have raised the most anger.
“There is a rigid defence position, arguing that every reported case is attacking the clerical institution, but it actually does not, unless that clerical institution defends pederasty,” said “Iglesia Sin Abusos” co-founder Carlos Sanchez Mato.
He ran bible classes at a Madrid school when he heard allegations that children were being abused there. He and others set up “Iglesia Sin Abusos”, a secular organisation to defend children’s rights and to encourage victims to come forward and press for convictions for criminal priests.
The Pope’s presence in Spain could seem, on the surface, like just another pastoral visit. But it goes much further than that in a country that is something of a paradox.
Spain, traditionally deeply Catholic, has become in recent years under the Zapatero government, one of Europe’s most progressive and socially audacious states.
The Vatican is worried about the dechristianisation of Europe; not just in Spain but also in Italy and France. The Catholic Church fears that Zapatero’s push towards secularism may spread to Latin America.
More than 30 years after the end of Franco’s dictatorship, which made Catholicism a national religion, belief is waning. Just eight years ago, 80 percent of Spaniards considered themselves Catholic. Today, that figure has fallen to 73 percent.
The child sex abuse scandals appear not to be the main cause as Spain has recorded relatively few cases compared to other countries.
Spain today is not afraid to turn its back on the Catholic Church. In 2005 the socialist government adopted a law permitting gay marriage. Since then 20,000 same-sex marriages have taken place despite the conservative opposition’s anger. The Popular Party has promised to review this law if it returns to power, as well as a law removing restrictions on abortions.
Although there were well-attended pro-life marches across the country, the abortion law went ahead. The Vatican was incensed.
And the Spanish government could go even further. Proposals have been in the pipelines since last December, including forbidding the crucifix in public places, a debate which is also raging in Italy.
But the government has not yet put anything before parliament, concerned perhaps not to pour oil on the fire.
Copyright © 2010 euronews
Hundreds of gay rights activists kissed on the streets of Barcelona Sunday to protest Pope Benedict XVI’s visit.
“This was a peaceful protest against those views, outside Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia church. ‘What we’ve done here today is not aggressive it’s not violent; we’re not making lies out of Catholics. We’re just here kissing and showing that we’re peaceful human beings.’” (Sky News)
Marylene Carole, of Flashmob, the group that organized the protest, told Pink News that 900 Facebook users planned on attending. She notes how powerful the event really was: “It is strange that such a noble act as kissing can still be considered revolutionary today, in the 21st century. This is a battle for sexual and affective rights, based on passion rather than violence.”
The purpose of the pontiff’s visit was to consecrate Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia cathedral, which has been under construction for more than a century. But he also warned of what he called “an aggressive secularism,” overtaking the country. ITN explains: “‘The generous and indissoluble love of a man and a woman is the effective context and the foundation of human life in its gestation, birth, growth and its natural end.’ Pope Benedict attacked Spain’s abortion and gay rights legislation in a mass in Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral. Spain was the third country worldwide to legalize same-sex marriages, much to the chagrin to the head of the Catholic church.”
Although the visit was meant to strengthen ties between Spain and the Vatican – once one of Europe’s most staunchly Catholic countries — the pope’s conservative message is becoming more controversial. In a report last week, Sarah Rainsford of the BBC said the church is struggling to stay relevant: “The number of baptisms is falling and the average age of the faithful is on the rise. From a position of great strength and wealth, the church in Spain is far weaker … In the past decade, the number of people who go to mass every Sunday has fallen by half, and now more than 50 percent of Spaniards say they never set foot inside a church.”
There was a counter-demonstration. Young Catholic protesters stood outside the Sagrada Familia cathedral chanting, “God loves you, too.” Pope Benedict’s visit is projected to cost Spanish taxpayers nearly $700,000.
Writer: Alexandra Pfenninger
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