Thursday, August 18, 2011

WSJ: Pope denounces the profit-at-all-cost mentality

MADRID—Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday began his third official visit to Spain, a trip observers say they expect will smooth strained ties between the Socialist government and the Roman Catholic Church.

For Pope Benedict, the trip will also serve as a return to a country that many in the Vatican see as a crucial battleground against secularist trends that have taken a toll on European Catholic communities. Spain was until recently a key Catholic stronghold, but has lately introduced policies the Vatican strongly opposes.

Thousands line the streets of Madrid as Pope Benedict visits the historic city against a backdrop of protests over the cost of the Pontiff's trip in the financially-challenged country. Video courtesy of Reuters.

Earlier, the pope denounced the profit-at-all-cost mentality he said is behind Europe's economic crisis, saying morals and ethics must play a greater role in future policies, the Associated Press reported.

"The economy doesn't function with market self-regulation," he told reporters on the papal plane, "but needs an ethical reason to work for mankind," the AP reported. He added that the current crisis shows that a moral dimension is "interior and fundamental" to economic problems.

Pope Benedict's visits to Spain over his six years as pope compare with just five visits in 26 years of papacy of his predecessor, John Paul II.

The visit, which sparked clashes between secularist groups and Catholic pilgrims late Wednesday, comes ahead of general elections set for Nov. 20. The latest opinion polls show the conservative, pro-Catholic Popular Party may return to power after seven years of Socialist Party rule.

Over the next three days, the pope plans to meet with Mariano Rajoy, the Popular Party candidate for prime minister. Pope Benedict will also meet twice with the current premier, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero—a stark contrast with his previous Spanish visit, in 2010, when they met briefly at Barcelona's airport as the pope was about to depart.

This, observers say, is a sign of a conciliatory attitude on both sides after recent high-profile rows, in particular over the 2005 approval of gay marriage. It also shows a delicate balancing act for the Socialists as they try to attract votes in a country that remains predominantly Catholic, as Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the Socialist candidate, said he doesn't plan to meet the pope.

The Pope in Madrid

Claudio Onorati/European Pressphoto Agency

Pope Benedict XVI greeted a crowd at Barajas International Airport, in Madrid Thursday.

In the 1960s, more than 90% of Spaniards defined themselves as Catholics, but in the latest polls, 72% do. That is down eight percentage points in the past decade alone, as Spain has moved from being one of the most conservative countries in Europe to one generally in favor of causes like abortion rights.

Jesús Bastante, a prominent Spanish Catholic blogger, said this is a concern for the Spanish Catholic Church, traditionally one of the most influential in Europe, only behind the church in Italy. But an additional worry is the possible spread of such secularist trends into Latin America, which keeps close cultural ties with Spain, and is home to almost half of the world's Catholics.

"There's a fear that this secularism is exported to the Americas, just like Catholicism itself was a Spanish export there," Mr. Bastante said.

The pope's visit forms part of the Catholic Church's weeklong World Youth Day, which has attracted hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from across the world. Speaking on his arrival in Madrid, he expressed concern about youth unemployment—a burning issue in crisis-hit Spain, where nearly half of all 15- to 24-year-olds don't have a job.

"Many young people look worriedly to the future, as they search for work, or because they have lost their job or because the one they have is precarious or uncertain," the pope said.

In spite of the social rhetoric, the visit has stirred an unusual degree of street-level opposition from secularist and activist groups, which previously rallied against government economic-austerity measures. Several thousand of those opposing the trip rallied in Madrid on Wednesday, and exchanged insults and taunts with Spanish and foreign pilgrims in Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square.

Echoing a common complaint among the secularists, Antonio González, an official at Spain's Secularist Watch, an organization that helped organize the protests, said the pope's visit will have a significant cost for Spanish taxpayers at a time of painful belt-tightening. However, both the Catholic Church and Madrid's local government have said the costs will be fully covered by pilgrims and private sponsors, while spending by the large influx of visitors will provide needed revenue to Madrid's local economy.

For the Vatican, the visit also represents a rare moment of relief—since accusations of child abuse became a top item in the agenda of papal visits in recent years—as the event is a show of global strength with the city of three million people flooded by youngsters from more than 100 countries.

"The World Youth Day brings us a message of hope…which fill us with confidence on the future of the Church and the world," the pope said on Thursday.

Write to David Roman at

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