Pope Francis receives Spanish prime minister in Vatican

Rajoy becomes first European leader to meet with Argentinean pontiff Madrid Archbishop Rouco lashes out at government for stalling on law guaranteeing right to life

Rajoy hands Pope Francis a Spain national soccer team shirt (atlas)

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Monday became the first European leader to be received by Pope Francis in the Vatican. During the private 24-minute meeting, Rajoy and the new pontiff analyzed the bilateral relationship between Spain and Rome, according to sources quoted by Efe news agency.

Afterwards the PM met with Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, who imparted his concern over the social consequences of Spain’s ongoing economic crisis.

After the meeting with the new Argentinean pontiff, Rajoy presented him with a replica edition of De aetatibus mundi, written by Francisco de Holanda in 1500 and made for King Philip II, as well as a Spain national soccer team shirt, signed by all the players.

The prime minister had gone to Rome with his homework already done. His conservative Popular Party government has made no cuts to the annual amount it gives to the Church to cover services and salaries (248 million euros this year), has eliminated the previous Socialist administration’s Civic Education classes in schools, and soon plans to reform the abortion law in order to impose stricter limitations. However, it is not known exactly what issues the two men addressed in the closed-door conversation.

The favor Rajoy has shown the Catholic Church at home has not, however, made him immune from criticism. Around the same time Rajoy began his meetings in Rome, the Archbishop of Madrid, Antonio María Rouco, issued a sharp reprimand to the government for stalling on the issues of abortion and gay marriage during his opening address to the full assembly of the Spanish Episcopal Conference.

“It is not easy to understand why we still do not even have a draft of a law that permits effective protection of the right to life of those innocent human beings who because they are in the first stages of their existence do not get to enjoy that basic fundamental right,” Cardinal Rouco said. “An in-depth reform of the current legislation is urgent. A stop needs to be put on this scandalous social problem as soon as possible.”

The president of the Spanish synod also pressed for a reform of Spain’s same-sex marriage law. “We have to reiterate that a reform of our legislation on marriage is also urgent. It has nothing to do with depriving anyone of their rights, nor is it about any legal intrusion into the realm of choices relating to personal intimacy. It is about restoring to all Spaniards the right of being expressly recognized as husband and wife by the law.

Rajoy is the fifth world leader to meet with Pope Francis since his inauguration in March. The pontiff has already held audiences with Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff, as well as the prime ministers of Tanzania and Mozambique.

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