By Jesús Colina
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 10, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The Spanish prime minister visited Benedict XVI today in the Vatican, giving the two leaders a chance to discuss topics upon which they agree, as well as their differences.
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero met with the Pope for about a half hour. A Vatican communiqué later reported that the two conversed about contentious issues such as Spanish legislation on religious liberty, greater promotion of abortion in the country, and basic differences in the theme of education.
They also discussed the Holy Father’s two upcoming trips to Spain — one for this November and another in August 2011 for World Youth Day.
On several occasions Spanish bishops have criticized the legislation on religious liberty being promoted by Zapatero’s party, considering that it is not necessary, as treaties already exist with Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities. They also are concerned that the legislation could impose an anti-religious model.
Meanwhile, a new law in Spain will enter into force July 5, imposing the liberalization of abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
The question of education mentioned in the communiqué alludes to the differences that from the beginning have characterized the Catholic Church and Zapatero’s government, in particular, the introduction of the subject “education for citizenship,” regarded as an instrument to impose an ideology in schools inspired in socialist ideals.
After his meeting with the Pontiff, Rodríguez Zapatero and his minister of foreign affairs, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, met with the Pope’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states.
Rodríguez Zapatero’s trip to Rome comes in the midst of his strongest popularity crisis since he was elected to the post in 2004 (and re-elected in 2008), because of the effects of the economic situation described by the World Bank on June 9 as “very serious.”
The Vatican statement further affirmed that the “cordial discussions provided an opportunity to exchange opinions on Europe, the current economic-financial crisis and the role of ethics. Reference was also made to countries of Central America and the Caribbean as well as to other situations, in particular the Middle East.”
Spanish government sources revealed that in regard to the Caribbean, discussions focused on the situation of political prisoners in Cuba, where the Catholic Church has recently made progress as a mediator.
The meeting between the Pope and Zapatero came in the context of the custom that the outgoing president of the European Union (Spain is ending its tenure) makes an evaluation of his mandate with the Bishop of Rome.
It was the first time that Zapatero visited Benedict XVI in the Vatican, although it was their second meeting. They previously met in Valencia in 2006, on the occasion of the World Meeting of Families.
Zapatero met with Pope John Paul II on June 21, 2004.