Pope urges Spanish Catholics to defend Christian way of life

Pope John Paul II called on Spanish Catholics to defend the Christian way of life, which he said was under attack in Spain in a climate of increasing secularism and moral laxity.

The pope made his remarks to Monsignor Antonio Rouco Varela, archbishop of Madrid, and a group of Spanish bishops who were visiting the Vatican following a recent polemic in Spain over the use of condoms.

Last week, the spokesman for Spain's Conference of Catholic Bishops, Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, raised eyebrows by saying condoms could be used as part of the global effort to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Spanish church officials and the Vatican swiftly set the record straight, saying the Roman Catholic Church remained opposed to the use of condoms. The church hierarchy offered no alternative method of fighting the deadly virus.

Speaking to the visiting leaders, the pope criticized what he called an encroaching climate of permissive morality in Spain.

The pope asked Catholics to reach deep within their faith "to give credible and public witness to the defense of a respect for life in its every phase; to defend the religious education of their children, to protect the sanctity of marriage and family and to defend the name of God and the human and social values of the Christian religion."

The pope also criticized initiatives by the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, such as its plans to make religious education in public schools voluntary by allowing students to replace a religion with a civics course.

The pope said religious education of Spanish youth could not be ignored in schools when parents are specifically demanding it, and that authorities ought to guarantee the parents that right.

A respect for life also meant a rejection of contraception, in-vitro fertilization, abortion and euthanasia.

Spain's current secular climate also risks forcing religious expression in Spain behind closed doors, said the pontiff.

"This ideology will lead to the restriction of religious freedoms and promote a disrespect and even ignorance of religion," he said.

"This is not one of the most noble Spanish traditions."

Spain's current social context, he concluded, meant that new generations of Spaniards were growing up in a climate of religious indifference and ignorant of their country's rich Christian spritual traditions.

Madrid's Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela described the Spanish capital as a "hotbed of sin" during a radio interview Sunday.

In Spain, Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, while declining to comment directly on John Paul's statements, said the government respects the Church's right to preach to Spanish Catholics.

But the role of the government "is to take the political initiative and answer for it before voters. They are two completely distinct spheres in democratic society," he said.

The government "is doing its job," said the minister.