, MADRID, Nov 8 – Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodrigo Zapatero told Pope Benedict XVI Spain is a secular state after the pontiff defended Church values against his reforms on abortion, gay marriage and divorce, a statement said on Monday.
The 83-year-old pope spent the weekend in Spain preaching the sanctity of life from the moment of conception and of the family based on love between a man and a woman.
Zapatero\’s government has angered the Church by allowing gay marriage, easier access to abortion and fast-track divorces.
Gay marriage has been embraced by many Spaniards, allowing 20,000 unions in the past five years. And the pope\’s message, while cheered by tens of thousands of the faithful, met with opposition from many others.
In Barcelona, about 200 gays and lesbians locked lips for five minutes, breaking off to shout "Get out," and "paedophile" as the pope made his way to consecrate the city\’s iconic Sagrada Familia church.
Zapatero met with Benedict at Barcelona airport just before the pope departed for Rome and said Spain had a smooth relationship with the Vatican, according to a statement from his office.
But the premier added that ties with the Vatican were based on the constitution, which states Spain is a "secular state which recognises the weight of the Catholic Church in Spain but guarantees the freedom of all," his office said.
Even before landing in Spain on Saturday, the pope set the tone for his visit by warning of the return of 1930s-style "aggressive" anti-clericism and calling on Europe to rediscover its Christian roots.
The pope, who began his visit in Santiago de Campostela, Spain\’s holiest city, was alluding to an era when pro-Republican forces killed priests and nuns before and during the Civil War.
"Spain saw in the 1930s the birth of a strong and aggressive anti-clericism," he told reporters aboard the papal plane. "The clash between faith and modernity is happening again, and it is very strong today."
Some of the Spanish press criticsed the pontiff\’s comment.
"The pope was unfair and not very diplomatic when, flying towards Santiago de Compostela, in his traditional meeting with journalists he compared the \’aggressive secularism\’ of today\’s Spain with that of the \’30s in the last century when churches and convents were burned," said an editorial by the leading daily El Pais.
The visit had presented "an exceptional chance to join faith, reason and culture," the paper added. "
"But he did not take advantage of it."
The centre-right daily El Mundo also lamented the pope\’s "unfortunate reference" to the 1930s, which saw the Republicans defeated in the Civil War and the right-wing pro-Catholic dictatorship of Francisco Franco ruling Spain for more than 35 years.
El Mundo noted that Zapatero and the pope discussed the organization of the pontiff\’s visit to Madrid in August 2011 for World Youth Day. "There is not much else they can agree on," it said.