The Vatican on Thursday welcomed the Spanish government's expressed desire to keep close ties with the Holy See but stood by Pope John Paul II's speech to Spanish bishops warning of secular trends in the country.
Friction with the Socialist government in traditionally Roman Catholic Spain has turned into a highly unusual public quarrel with the Vatican.
Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls responded to a statement the Spanish government issued Wednesday after it summoned the Vatican's ambassador. Spain called him in to express surprise over the pope's criticism of the government in his speech earlier in the week.
While expressing satisfaction with Madrid's desire for good relations with the Vatican, Navarro-Valls said a careful reading of the pope's speech "will clearly illustrate the position of the church."
The Foreign Ministry in Madrid said state secretary Luis Calvo Merino told the papal envoy that the government was surprised at the pope's reference to a "a supposed restrictive secularization [in Spain] which might limit religious freedom, and that this could be attributed to a deliberate attitude on behalf of the government."
The statement said Spain also expressed its surprise at the pope's remarks concerning Spanish authorities' obligation to guarantee religious education, adding that this was already regulated by a 1979 accord between Spain and the Vatican.
Calvo Merino told the nuncio that Spain wished to maintain "a fruitful understanding with the church, by means of continuous dialogue based on the deep respect for the range of powers which the agreements between Spain and the Vatican assign to each side."
The pope's comments were widely seen in Spain as a sharp dig at the Socialists, who took power in April and are pushing an agenda that includes legalization of same-sex marriage, fast-tracking divorce proceedings, and relaxing Spain's strict abortion law. (AP)