Zapatero accused of rejecting religion

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has come under attack from his country's Roman Catholic bishops over proposed legislation on same-sex "marriages" and on removing religious teaching from state-run schools.

Last week, as parliamentary votes on these issues drew closer, church officials stepped up their barrage of criticism of what they call Mr. Zapatero's "road map" to undermine religion and enforce secularism in Spain.

The spokesman for the Spanish Episcopal Conference, the Rev. Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, declared on state-run television that some of the Zapatero government's planned legislation was "a virus" that would eat away at the country's religious faith. And Catholic Archbishop Carlos Amigo of Seville charged that "the secular state was persecuting religion."

Mr. Zapatero, who was elected in March, says the measures are Socialist Party election promises that the government is putting into effect.

"What the government will put before parliament is strictly a reflection of what was supported on polling day," he said.

At issue are four draft laws. They are intended to introduce "fast-track" divorce; liberalize the abortion law; extend to same-sex couples the conjugal rights accorded to heterosexual married couples, including the right to adopt children; and end compulsory religious education in Spain's state schools.

Divorce was introduced in Spain in 1981, but it takes two years to obtain one. The Zapatero government wants to shorten that waiting period by simplifying divorce proceedings.

Senior church officials have accused the government of undermining the institution of marriage by making it easier to get a divorce. But the current difficulties do not seem to deter Spanish couples seeking divorce: The newspaper ABC reported recently that last year, 347 marriages ended each day, double the rate a decade ago.

Abortion was decriminalized in Spain in 1983. The new law will give women the right to end a pregnancy within a stipulated period without having to state a reason.

The Socialist government also is pushing for the legalization of same-sex "marriage," which a senior Spanish prelate denounced as the recognition of an unnatural relationship.

"The government's decision to legalize homosexual marriages, as far as the church is concerned, is subversive," commented the newspaper El Pais last week. "We must not forget that little more than three decades ago, the church sent priests to dance halls to measure the appropriate distance between young people on the dance floor."

According to a church poll taken this year, only 5 percent of young Spaniards, including those who consider themselves Catholic, abide by the church's rules on sex. The church fears that Mr. Zapatero's new laws will take the historically Roman Catholic country further down the slippery slope toward secularism, hedonism and religious indifference.

The issue that has angered the church the most is the planned removal of religious teaching from schools. The church appoints and pays — through a government subsidy — Spain's 32,000 religion teachers in the state schools.