Spanish bishops elect conservative leader close to pope

4th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

Spain's Catholic bishops Tuesday elected a conservative cardinal close to Pope Benedict XVI to head the Bishops' Conference, which has criticised Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's liberal policies ahead of Sunday's elections.

4 March 2008

MADRID - Spain's Catholic bishops Tuesday elected a conservative cardinal close to Pope Benedict XVI to head the Bishops' Conference, which has criticised Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's liberal policies ahead of Sunday's elections.

Madrid archbishop Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, 71, will replace moderate Bilbao bishop Ricardo Blazquez.

Rouco, who already headed the Spanish Bishops' Conference for two three-year terms from 1999 to 2005, is regarded as the Spanish bishop with the most influence in the Vatican in recent times.

Rouco is close to Pope Benedict XVI, whom he made friends with while both were students in Munich.

Known for his conservative views, Rouco remained influential in Spain during the presidency of Blazquez, who was believed to have lost the election over his low profile and calls for "dialogue" with the government.

Zapatero's reforms such as homosexual marriage, fast-track divorce, stem cell research and moves to reduce the church's influence on education put him on a collision course with Spain's Catholic Church.

Bishops and priests have attended massive rallies against Zapatero's policies, and the Bishops' Conference indirectly encouraged voters to choose the opposition conservative Popular Party (PP).

Church leaders have accused the government of abolishing the family as a basic social unit and even of undermining human rights and democracy.

[Copyright dpa 2008]

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