Religion: Pope on the ropes
8 November 2010
In attacking Spanish legislation he deems hostile to traditional family values and lamenting the decline of Catholicism in Europe, the Pope has added further fuel to the debate on religion. The European press is less than convinced.
On the occasion of the Pope’s visit to Spain on 6 and 7 November, La Vanguardia remarks that Benedict XVI focused "on the main axis of his pontificate – the risks the Catholic Church perceives in the increasing secularisation of European society, particularly with regard to traditional family values."
But in choosing to vent his ire on policies adopted by José Luis Zapatero’s socialist government regarding homosexual marriage and abortion, the Pope failed to take advantage "of an exceptional opportunity to unite faith, reason and culture," complains El País. "(H)e has set himself the Herculean task of combating the unstoppable development of secularisation in Europe" – a process for which, "Spain has become the centre of operations, strangely enough." Although Spain "is no longer the light of Trent" (the council that launched the Counter-reformation in the 16th century), and the Spanish faithful have been less numerous than expected, "Ratzinger’s over-the-top approach resulted in a missed opportunity to build bridges between the Church and the state," the Madrid daily notes.
Fatal comparison with Second Spanish Republic
Writing for La Vanguardia, however, Joana Bonet notes that in Barcelona, the Papal message was "a logical continuation of the ecclesiastical complaint about the loss of Europe’s Christian roots and its possible consequences." In the same newspaper, Enric Juliana argues that "the Catholic Church now has a Carolingian Pope" who speaks in a "didactic language that is not in any way offensive."
In contrast, Süddeutsche Zeitung announces that whoever advised Benedict XVI in the course of his trip to Spain did him a great disservice. The Munich daily condemns as “fatal” the Pontiff’s comparision of contemporary anti-clericalism with that in the run up to the civil war, as the Second Spanish Republic attempted to limit the role of the Church. It shows that the Vatican is still eager to hide the true story of an “aggressive and murderous Spanish clergy too happy to give a leg-up to Francoist facism.” But “why is Benedict XVI bringing all of this up now? Because in terms of social legislation, Spain has entered the modern world. Gay marriage, divorce without an interminable waiting period, abortion, and sex education – in the eyes of the Vatican, this is the catalogue of sin for which Spain is unable to atone.”
Czechs not anti-religion, just anti-Pope
In Warsaw, however, Rzeczpospolita approves the Pope’s warnings against the culture of anticlericalism. “Benedict XVI’s remarks... were interpreted by most of the European media as an attack on the government of José Luis Zapatero. But the fact is that over the last six years, the Spanish faithful have been right to believe that they have been set upon and driven into a corner.” Hostile to the Spanish reforms, the Warsaw daily argues that “when politicians remain silent, it is not surprising that the Pope feels obliged to speak out. In the same way that we are highly sensitive to right-wing radicalism, we should also be concerned when the left embraces extremist opinions”.
Headlining with “Pope grumbles about irreligious Czechs,” Lidové Noviny reports that Benedict XVI cited the Czech Republic as an example of the loss of religious values in Europe. However, the Prague daily presents a poll to the effect that the Czechs are not quite as anti-Catholic as they are made out to be, but simply short on enthusiasm for the Papal personality.
Elsewhere, Lidové argues that the Pope’s concerns over “the growing spiritual void in Europe, which will open the door to Islam,” are groundless. On the contrary, Lidové noviny believes that “Islam is less likely to develop in the Czech Republic than in a country where Catholicism is a living force.”