Benedict XVI criticises the “aggressive secularism” in Spain before starting his visit

The Pope decided to politicise his visit to Spain. He made a brief speech on the plane after leaving Rome in which he attacked what he called “the aggressive secularism” in Spain nowadays, which reminded him of the situation in the 1930s. It is an attack against Prime Minister Zapatero’s policies and an answer to the individuals and associations protesting against the Pope’s visit. Benedict XVI also criticised Spanish government’s laws during the religious ceremonies.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

November 7, 2010 03:16 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- Benedict XVI compared what he called the “aggressive secularism” to the situation in the 1930s. According to the Pope, Spain is being pushed towards secularism, which is becoming more radical. Benedict XVI decided to act as the guardian of Catholic faith and redressed the growing secular Spanish society. To do so, he compared the current times to the pre-Civil War atmosphere. In the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), many priests and nuns were killed, and churches were burnt. However, the Catholic Church declared the fascist rebellion lead by Franco “a crusade” against the legitimate Republic and the progressive secularisation of society. In fact, despite some individual exceptions, the Catholic Church blessed Franco’s fascist rebellion and further dictatorship, even after his death in 1975. Support for Catholicism is declining in Spanish society and nowadays only a minority of people attend church on a regular basis. The answer of the Pope to this fact is attacking the secularism of the Spanish State and the separation between Church and State. In the ceremony at the Sagrada Família, the Pope criticised laws such as the abortion and underlined the need to go back to traditional family values. Prime Minister Zapatero announced some days ago he would not attend the scheduled religious ceremonies and he would only meet the Pope before his departure to Rome.

Benedict XVI wanted to address 3 issues. Firstly, he criticised the secularisation of Spanish society and State. Secondly, he also entered the Spanish political arena by criticising the Spanish government’s policies, such as freedom of abortion or homosexual marriage. Finally, he answered back to the individuals, associations and political forces that have criticised the visit, and he also talked about the Church’s role, the current Papacy and Church structure. Joseph Ratzinger acted as the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith he used to be. He attacked what he judged to be “the aggressive secularism” that Spain is living nowadays. He said this in a speech on the flight that took him to Santiago de Compostela, just before his visit.

The Pope enters the Spanish political arena

Just before arriving at Santiago de Compostela, the Pope decided to criticise the secularisation of Spanish society and the progressive civil rights policies undergone by the Social-Democrat government of Prime Minister Zapatero. The Pope supports the Spanish Episcopal Conference, which has been criticising Zapatero’s policies since he took charge in 2004. In fact, the Spanish Catholic Church participated in several demonstrations during these last years, notably the ones against the homosexual marriage or the new abortion law.

A secularism similar to “the 1930s”, says the Pope

In his speech, Benedict XVI mixed the Spanish government’s policies with the progressive secularisation of the society and the protests against his visit. He labelled these issues as “aggressive secularism” and compared it to the events of the 1930s. The Spanish Civil War started in 1936 with what the Catholic Chuch called “a crusade” to reconquer Spain under Catholicism: a fascist military upraising against the legitimate Republican government. In addition, the Catholic Church not only blessed the rebellion but also Franco’s dictatorship, even after his death in 1975. For instance, Franco and his wife entered churches under a dossal, a privilege reserved only to bishops or kings.

Zapatero announced he would not attend the ceremonies

Prime Minister Zapatero announced some days ago that he would not attend the religious ceremonies, neither in Santiago de Compostela, nor in Barcelona. This decision proved controversial, as some argued that, as the Head of the Spanish Government, Zapatero has a representative role to play that goes beyond his individual preferences. Others justified Zapatero's decision by saying it was coherent with his policies and the implications it has with the Church. Finally, Zapatero decided he would go to Barcelona’s airport for a brief meeting with the Pope just before his departure.

Protests against the visit

In fact, many individuals, organisations and political forces have opposed the Pope’s visit. They have criticised the costs and, mainly, the interference of Church in a secular State like Spain.

Many demonstrations took place these past few days in Barcelona. Some where even organised by Christian groups, such as “Església Plural”, which criticises the current Papacy and the structure of the Catholic Church. The most visible protest has been the one of a group of homosexual people that arranged a collective kiss while the Pope was passing by. About 100 homosexual couples have kissed in front of the Popemobile, when Benedict XVI was heading towards the Sagrada Família.

The Pope speaks in Catalan

Benedict XVI also wanted to show his respect for Catalan language, which is official in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Valencia, and a part of Aragon. Catalan is an official language in a territory of 12 million people. The Pope spoke in Catalan during many moments of ceremony held at the Sagrada Família, especially at the beginning of the speech. The first public words of the Pope inside the temple were pronounced in Catalan. The ceremony has combined Catalan, Spanish and Latin.