Activists protest Pope Benedict XVI visit to Spain
Thousands of activists rallied Thursday in Barcelona against a weekend visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Spain, attacking the Church on multiple fronts including child sexual abuse by priests.
The pontiff travels to Santiago de Compostela, one of Roman Catholicism's holiest sites, on Saturday before continuing to Barcelona to consecrate Antonio Gaudi's iconic unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia church.
Church leaders are touting the visit as a defence of their most sacred beliefs from an onslaught of socially progressive legislation by Spain's Socialist government, such as abortion reforms, gay marriage and fast-track divorce.
But many in Spain who back a secular society are angry over the visit, and the reportedly high cost of it.
"Jo no t'espero" ("I'm not waiting for you" in Catalan) declared banners carried by a crowd of more than 2,000 people in the Sant-Jaume Square in the historic part of this Mediterranean port city.
"Children welcome, priests flee," said one placard carried by a child, referring to the child sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church worldwide but largely spared Spain.
"I am here because this is a secular state and I want to defend it," said one activist, Nuria Barrachina, a 34-year-old office worker who was there with her husband.
"I don't like priests," added 62-year-old Sebastian Carbajal.
"Once and for all the Spanish government should separate Church and state," he said. Carbajal called on the government to end an option on income tax forms that lets taxpayers give 0.7 percent of their taxes to the Church.
Gloria Lopez, a 35-year-old teacher, said she believed half of the taxes paid in Spain went to the Roman Catholic Church. "There is Catholic propaganda everywhere because they have got the money we give them."
The rally was aimed at "showing the pluralism of Catalan society" and above all "to show the diversity of morals" in the northeastern region, said the head of the Progressive and Laical Movement, one of the groups that make up the platform.
They are also calling for "transparency" from the regional and municipal governments over the costs of the papal visit.
The CGT union has also called a protest for Saturday afternoon at 1400 GMT in front of the cathedral.
The union -- which cancelled a transport strike called for Sunday -- is angry over media reports that said the national government would have to pay 14.5 million euros (20 million dollars) to meet costs linked to the trip.
Gay rights activists are also hoping to stage a mass kiss-in in Barcelona.
"We are hoping for a crowd of people of the same sex who will kiss each other for two minutes in front of the pope," said one of the organisers, Marylene Carole.
"The reason is to show our unhappiness with an institution which for a long time has been against the sexual and emotional rights of many people who do not practice exclusively reproductive sex, or people who do not love each other in the way that the institution thinks is right," Carole said in response to email questions.
Early Friday morning, an association of gay and lesbian Christians, ACGIL, has also organised "an act of reflection and prayer on the type of papacy that the Church needs in the new millennium."
Its head, Angel Llorent, said those attending the event, at the basilica of Santa Maria del Pi, will reflect on "the reforms that are needed to the current hierarchical system of the Church for it to have credibility in the world and among the faithful."
"We will also address the issue of gay marriage," he said.
© 2010 AFP