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Church and Spanish Socialists clash over park

Church and Spanish Socialists clash over park

Spain's Socialist government has had a series of epic clashes with the Roman Catholic Church on weighty religious issues like abortion, gay rights and divorce. But the latest feud is an entirely earthly battle _ over church plans to turn a section of one of Madrid's oldest parks into a "mini-Vatican."
A Socialist party spokesman on Tuesday called the plan an "historic assault," and the party has appealed to the European Commission in Brussels to try to stop the project, which was approved by Madrid's conservative city council 10 days ago.
The controversy is over plans to construct five buildings _ including a residence for priests, an ecclesiastical library and another church building _ on a piece of land on the edge of Madrid's historic center called the Cornisa de San Francisco.
The area, seen in a 1788 painting by Spanish master Francisco de Goya called "La Pradera de San Isidro," was once the site of church trials during the Spanish Inquisition. Today, it is a sloping public park, where Madrilenos can escape the hustle and bustle for a stroll or a picnic.
Opponents say the site offers an iconic view of Madrid's skyline _ including the Royal Palace and the 18th century Basilica of San Francisco _ that has barely changed and should not be touched.
David Lucas, a Socialist Party spokesman in Madrid, called the project "an urban outrage that damages our heritage, our architecture, our environment and our identity."
The area is one of the only in the capital "that has remained untouched. It is one of the most emblematic views in a city which has so few and which has been losing so many of the symbols of its own identity," Lucas said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The Socialists and several neighborhood associations have promised legal action and street protests, including a March 29 demonstration they hope will draw thousands. On Monday, a Spanish Socialist parliamentarian asked the European Commission in Brussels to order an environmental review that would delay the project.
The church has long held dreams of expanding in the area, which already houses Madrid's Almudena Cathedral and many of the church's administrative offices. Opponents say the new buildings would turn that part of central Madrid into a "mini-Vatican," with everything except a pope.
Church representatives on Tuesday did not respond to several requests by AP for comment, but church officials have defended the project by noting it includes plans for a school and sports complex that will benefit residents.
The clash is just the latest in a series of simmering battles between the church and Spain's ruling Socialists.
Since taking office in 2004, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has angered the Vatican by legalizing gay marriage, allowing for fast-track divorces and giving increased rights to transsexuals.
The government is also on track to greatly ease restrictions on abortions, and has dropped plans by the previous conservative government to make religious education part of the core curriculum in public schools, deeply angering religious leaders.
The church has pushed back against the measures, holding pro-family rallies that have drawn hundreds of thousands of people, and beatifying hundreds of Roman Catholic priests and nuns killed by Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.
Lucas said the latest clash has put the church in a strange role, pushing for modern expansion over the preservation of the traditional culture and heritage that it normally champions.
"If Goya were to see what was happening..." he lamented, suggesting the master would not be pleased.


Updated : 2021-03-05 22:53 GMT+08:00