Pope denounces gay marriage and abortion in Spain


POPE BENEDICT has denounced abortion and gay marriage, recently legalised in Spain, at a Mass to consecrate Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia church as a basilica in another criticism of what he called Spain’s “aggressive secularism”.

The service at the still unfinished building was attended by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, but not by the prime minister.

Although Mass has been held in one of the crypts of the building in the past, yesterday’s Mass was the first to be celebrated in the newly consecrated main church nave.

Queen Sofia received communion from the pope, but King Juan Carlos did not. Three hundred priests emerged through the main door to distribute the Eucharist to the thousands of faithful in the streets outside.

The huge, elaborate building is based on a design of the eccentric Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, who took over work in 1883 on what had been planned as a smaller neo-Gothic church. He had greater ambitions and set to work building the five naves and 18 towering spires of the Sagrada Família,­ the Temple of the Holy Family.

Gaudi was a deeply religious man, who devoted the last 30 years of his life to the project, living the life of a virtual recluse on the site. He died a pauper in 1926 after being hit by a tram, and left only incomplete plans for the structure, complicating the task of the current architectural team.

It was partially damaged during the civil war, and no work was carried out for many years afterwards when money ran out. Today, funds to complete the construction come from donations and entry fees charged to the thousands of tourists who visit every year. It is still a work in progress, although the builders believe it will be completed by 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death, when his supporters hope he will be beatified.

But there are worries that development of the basilica could grind to a halt, as work to build the AVE high speed rail line, linking Barcelona to the French border, tunnels dangerously close to the foundations of the building.

Its ornate and elaborate decoration is not to everyone’s taste. George Orwell, author of Homage to Catalonia, who has a nearby square named after him, described it as “one of the world’s most hideous buildings”.

On Saturday the pontiff visited Santiago de Compostela, where he paid homage at the tomb of Saint James in the cathedral, and later said Mass in the main square before a large congregation – many of whom were pilgrims who had completed their Holy Year pilgrimage. Leader of the conservative opposition Mariano Rajoy, a practising Catholic, was present with his wife and took Communion during the Mass.

In both cities there were smaller crowds than expected; hoteliers, bar and restaurant owners complained over lack of business, and many locals were annoyed at the amount of money spent on the visit. Five hundred gays and lesbians staged a “kiss-in” along the route of the papal motorcade, and other groups demonstrated against the visit and the church’s opposition to contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage.

Spain was for centuries a devoutly Roman Catholic country, but support for the church, which endured during the 40-year Franco dictatorship, fell with the transition to democracy.

Few of today’s governing Socialists are church-goers, and there have been several angry confrontations between government ministers and the bishops.

In spite of this, many felt that prime minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, an atheist, should have welcomed Benedict XVI. Instead he chose to visit Spanish troops in Afghanistan on Saturday, although he returned in time to say farewell to the pontiff at Barcelona airport.

Spain is now one of the most liberal countries in Europe. It was the first to legalise same-sex marriages and the adoption of children by homosexuals, divorce is easy to obtain, abortion is available virtually on demand during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, and religious teaching is optional in state schools.

Although 73 per cent of Spaniards still define themselves as Catholic, only 14.4 per cent of them regularly attend Mass. Last year, for the first time, the number of civil weddings was greater than those celebrated in churches.

During his visit, Benedict XVI spoke of his concern at increasing secularism in Europe, particularly in Spain. “In recent years we have witnessed a growing anti-clericalism and an aggressive secularisation, similar to that seen in the 1930s,” he warned.