Gay protesters stage 'kiss-in' as pope drives by

Associated Press correspondent Nicole Winfield reports:

Pope Benedict XVI strongly defended traditional families and the rights of the unborn Sunday, directly attacking Spanish laws that allow gay marriage, fast-track divorce and easier abortions as he dedicated Barcelona's iconic church, the Sagrada Familia.


It was the second time in as many days that Benedict had criticized the policies of Spain's Socialist government and called for Europe as a whole to rediscover Christian teachings and apply them to everyday life.

As he headed to the church named for the sacred family, about 200 gays and lesbians staged a 'kiss-in' to protest his visit and church policies on homosexuals, condom use and a host of other issues. Church teaching holds that gays should be treated with dignity and respect but that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered."


Benedict has focused much of his pontificate on trying to fight secular trends in the West such as the legal recognition of same-sex unions. Benedict has visited Spain twice so far and has a third trip planned next year, an indication he sees this once staunchly Roman Catholic country as a battleground for the future of the faithful in Europe.

During his homily Sunday, Benedict noted that the Sagrada Familia church, a soaring, Art Nouveau marvel begun over a century ago, was initially conceived of as a temple to the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

As he inaugurated the church's main altar, he railed against same-sex marriage and divorce, saying families are built on the "indissoluble love of a man and a woman" who should be provided with financial and social benefits from governments. The pontiff also consecrated the building for use as a church in a colorful ceremony seldom seen performed by a pope.He criticized policies allowing for abortions, saying "the life of children (must) be defended as sacred and inviolable from the moment of their conception."

To press his point, Benedict was to visit a Spanish church-run home for children with developmental and behavioral problems later Sunday before returning to Rome.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government has supported a legislative agenda that has deeply angered the Vatican, allowing gay marriage, quicker divorces and easier abortions.

Spain's new abortion law allows the procedure without restrictions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, bringing Spain more in line with its European neighbors.

As he arrived Saturday, Benedict blasted such policies, saying today's "aggressive" anti-church, secular movement in Spain was reminiscent of the 1930s, when the church suffered violent persecution as the country lurched from an unstable democracy to civil war.

The reference was striking, given the scale of violence back then: poverty-stricken and disgruntled Spaniards burned churches and murdered priests and nuns whom they considered obstacles to much-needed change. The church claims 4,184 clergy were killed by the government, or Republican side, which accused the church of backing fascist Gen. Francisco Franco.


In his homily Sunday, Benedict again called for the West to embrace God and shun secular trends. He said the dedication of the Sagrada Familia church was of great importance "at a time in which man claims to be able to build his life without God, as if God had nothing to say to him."

During the ritual-filled dedication ceremony, Benedict poured holy oil over the marble altar and spread it across all four corners with his hands, an apron protecting his vestments. He then lit a brass incense burner on the altar as Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia looked on.

Afterward, four nuns dressed in black mopped up the remaining oil from the altar and placed fresh linens on it.

The church, which was being declared a basilica, is the masterwork of Antoni Gaudi, a Barcelona architect and staunch Catholic who dedicated his life to the project but died in 1926, only a few years after it was begun. He is on the path to possible sainthood.

The light-filled basilica is awash in Christian symbolism and imagery; its planned 18 towers which pierce Barcelona's skyline represent the 12 apostles, the four evangelists, Mary and Jesus; the basilica's three main exterior facades depict Christ's birth, death and resurrection; the 52 palm treelike columns inside represent the 52 Sundays of the year.

Benedict praised Gaudi for integrating nature, scripture and liturgy in his masterpiece in a way that overcame the distinction between the temporal and the eternal world.


"Antoni Gaudi did this not with words but with stones, lines, planes and points," Benedict said. "Indeed, beauty is one of mankind's greatest needs; it is the root from which the branches of our peace and the fruits of our hope come forth."

Thousands of Spaniards lined Benedict's motorcade route, cheering and waving the yellow and white flags of the Holy See. Mixed among the throngs outside Barcelona's cathedral were 200 members of the gay 'kiss-in' who smooched as his popemobile went by.

Sergi Benavent, a 22-year-old nursing student, said he protested to show his opposition to those "who want to love in just one way."

"This is a peaceful demonstration that there are more ways of expressing one's love," he said.

His partner, Andreu Martinez, a 27-year-old administrative assistant, concurred, saying he wanted to protest the church's "antiquated, homophobic and sexist hierarchy."