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Socialists hit back at Church “political offensive”


2 January 2008

MADRID – Spain’s governing Socialist Party hit back Tuesday at the Catholic Church, two days after prominent bishops from across Spain lambasted the government’s social and family policies in a mass rally in Madrid.

Labelling the demonstration Sunday attended by 160,000 people as a "political act," Socialist Party secretary José Blanco demanded that the Church retract accusations that the Socialist government has weakened human rights and democracy by taking such measures as reforming the education system and legalising gay marriage. Sunday’s protest, supported by members of the main opposition conservative Popular Party, took place little more than two months before Spaniards go to the polls in a general election on 9 March.

"We will stand up to this offensive by the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which constitutes the first act of the PP’s election campaign," Blanco told EL PAÍS yesterday. He said that the bishops’ criticism of the Socialist Party constitutes an "extremely serious attack" by the Church on the democratic institutions of the state, something "unprecedented" since Spain’s transition to democracy three decades ago.

Addressing participants in the march on Sunday, the archbishop of Valencia, Cardinal Agustín García-Gasco, accused the government of fomenting "radical secularism that could lead to the dissolution of democracy." The archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, argued that the government’s policies related to the family are a "step back for human rights."

"Whoever harms the family as an institution, even if they do so unconsciously, makes national and international peace more fragile," Rouco Varela declared.

Blanco said the Socialist Party is due to release a formal statement today in response to the bishops’ accusations, which he indicated should be viewed in light of the election campaign. It is unclear what impact the Church’s political machinations will have on voters.

[Copyright El Pais 2008]

Subject: Spanish news