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Senior bishop hits back at Socialists over missive

4 February 2008

MADRID – The archbishop of Toledo Antonio Cañizares on Sunday defended the Spanish Catholic Church’s decision to criticise the Socialist government’s counterterrorism policy, arguing that it is "evangelical" for the Church to "orient the faithful" even if a general election is little more than a month away.

The Church’s argument in a missive last week that a "free society cannot recognise a terrorist organisation" even within the context of peace talks has been interpreted by the Socialist government as a direct attack on its counterterrorism policies. Some Socialist lawmakers see it as an expression of support by bishops ahead of the election for the main opposition Popular Party, which opposed the government’s efforts to negotiate a peace deal with Basque terrorist group ETA during a 2006 ceasefire.

However, speaking during mass in Toledo yesterday Cañizares, who is also vice president of the Episcopal Conference, appeared to deny that the Church was playing at politics. "The Church has no other words than the words of Christ… and that voice will never be silenced no matter what certain powers in this world want," he declared.

The Socialist government has nonetheless expressed its "indignation" over the content and, in particular, the timing of the controversial missive.

"As a Catholic, not just as a Socialist, I must say I am perplexed," Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos said Saturday. "I don’t think any 21st century Catholic can understand this… the Church hierarchy has shown itself to be fundamentalist, neoconservative and it fails to represent the sentiments of the majority of Catholics."

Moratinos said Spain’s ambassador to the Vatican, Francisco Vázquez, had lodged a formal complaint over the missive, though he rejected the idea that the growing rift in Church-state relations could lead the government to propose breaking long-standing accords, including one helping finance the Church through income tax contributions.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / A. EATWELL 2008]

Subject: Spanish news