Zapatero fights back as relationship with Vatican sours further

8th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Prime minister bares teeth at bishops' criticism of Socialist anti-terror policy

8 February 2008

MADRID - Manuel Monteiro, the Vatican's envoy to Spain, had settled into his seat to hear Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero speak about the economy, but instead the papal nuncio became the focus of attention when the Socialist Party leader slammed Spanish bishops' recent criticism of his government's counterterrorism policy.

The incident, at a conference Wednesday night in Bilbao, is the latest in a string of face offs between the Church and the Socialist government just weeks before a general election on 9 March. Zapatero lashed out in particular against a missive signed by Spain's senior bishops that directly criticises the government's efforts to talk to Basque terrorist group ETA during a ceasefire in 2006.

"This is the first time that [the Church] offers its view about dialogue with ETA... and it does so in a note just before the elections," Zapatero complained.

He noted, by way of an example, that the Church had remained quiet eight years ago when the former Popular Party administration of José María Aznar was seeking re-election after failing in its own peace initiative in the Basque Country. "There is a big difference and I don't think it is right," the prime minister said.

Prominent Socialist Party figures have argued that the bishops' missive is an underhanded attempt to influence Catholic voters ahead of the election, something the Church has denied: "We are not trying to orientate people's votes, it was just a consideration," the bishop of Segorbe-Castelón, Casimiro López, said.

Zapatero will have a chance to clear up the issue on Tuesday when he is due to meet with Monteiro at the nunciature in Madrid for long-awaited talks that many Socialists are hoping will put an end to the chafing between the government and the Church. José Bono, who has been offered the post of Congress speaker by the Socialist Party if elected, went someway down that road yesterday, arguing that "relations are not as bad as some people would like to portray them."

[Copyright EL PAÍS / L. R. AIZPEOLEA 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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