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Spanish defense minister rejects pope's criticism of government

Spanish defense minister rejects pope's criticism of government

Spain's defense minister on Tuesday rejected Pope John Paul II's criticism of the country's Socialist government--which wants to legalize same-sex marriage and streamline laws on divorce and abortion--and said some church positions go against the teachings of Jesus Christ. "Faith is not something a government can impose. It is not something that is up to the state, but rather to people," Minister Jose Bono said in comments broadcast on Spanish National Television. He spoke a day after the pope, in a meeting with visiting Spanish bishops, said secular trends in Spain are leading young people to become indifferent to religion. "I have faith. I believe. But I also believe that you can't blame the Spanish government for laicism," Bono said. "Maybe the church's hierarchy should also consider whether it is also to blame if there is a certain distancing from Christian faith." He said some of the church's positions, such as its opposition to homosexuality and use of condoms, go against the message of Jesus Christ. "Today, Christ would be more worried about the 25,000 children who die each day of hunger or in wars. I think Christ would side with those who are peaceful," Bono said. Bono is believed to be the only practicing Catholic in the Spanish cabinet. In Spain the pope's comments were widely seen as a sharp dig at the Socialists, who took power in April and are pushing an agenda that includes legalization of gay marriage, fast-tracking divorce proceedings, and relaxing Spain's strict abortion law. Spanish newspapers quoted the pope as saying, for instance, that "the public powers" in Spain have the obligation to guarantee parents the right to religious education for their children. The Socialist government did away with a law that would have made religious education mandatory in public schools and have students' grades in these classes count toward their overall average. Now the classes are optional and don't count toward the average. The pope has been delivering similar messages to bishops from across Europe, but the speech to the Spanish came after a leading Spanish prelate said last week that bishops there support the use of condoms to fight AIDS. The prelate quickly backtracked, saying the church believes condom use is immoral. The pope made no reference Monday to those comments. He reminded the bishops of Spain's "deep Christian roots" and warned of the spread of "a mentality inspired by secularism." New generations, he said, are growing up with indifference to religion, ignorance of Christian traditions, and a "temptation to moral permissiveness." In a sharp departure from church tradition, Spanish bishop Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, spokesman for the Spanish Bishops Conference, said last Tuesday that "condoms have a place in the global prevention of AIDS." But a day later the conference issued a statement saying the bishop's comments "must be understood in the context of Catholic doctrine, which holds that use of condoms is immoral sexual conduct." On Saturday the pope reiterated the Vatican's position that education, chastity, and sexual fidelity are the responsible methods to combat AIDS.

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