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Socially conservative mayor appointed
Spain’s new ambassador to the Vatican
By Daniel González Herrera, Spain Editor
9 March 2006: The Spanish government has appointed Francisco Vázquez, the Mayor of La Coruña, as the country’s new ambassador to the Vatican. The Mayor will take over from Jorge Dezcalla, who resigned after the death of his wife. Spain’s delegation at the Vatican is the world’s oldest permanent embassy. It was established by the catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1482, ten years before the discovery of America.
Francisco Vázquez, a member of the governing Socialist Party, has led La Coruña’s city council for the past 23 years. The city, in the autonomous region of Galicia, is the capital of the province with the same name. During his time as Mayor, Francisco Vázquez always had the backing of the absolute majority of voters, even though, at the last election, he lost some 10,000 votes. In addition to his position of Mayor, Francisco Vázquez was a Spanish senator and President of the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces. He will relinquish all these positions on taking up the ambassadorship at the Vatican on 9 April 2006.
The Mayor of La Coruña is among the more conservative members of the Spanish Socialist Party. As a practicing Catholic, he has always defended the right of the Catholic Church to express its moral opinions in all areas, including politics. He once said that he was a Catholic who had never been ashamed to express his convictions in public. As such, he had some profound disagreements with the progressive policies of Spain’s current socialist government under Prime Minister Zapatero.
On the day when the proposed law on legalising marriage between people of the same sex was voted on in the Senate, Mr Vázquez, to show publicly his rejection of the new legislation, did not take his place in the Senate. However, he made it clear afterwards that his city administration would ensure that the new law on same-sex marriage would be upheld. It was not the first time that Francisco Vázquez openly opposed one of his party’s policies, In 1998, he rejected new abortion legislation as too liberal.
While Francisco Vázquez, who is said to be a close friend of Madrid’s Archbishop Rouco Varela, expressed many times his wish to head Spain’s delegation at the Holy See, upon hearing of his appointment said that he would go to the Vatican as an “apprentice”. The Mayor also pointed out the differences between local politics, where he spent most of his professional life, and affairs of state. “People of a city come to the mayor and demand solutions. You can’t engage in Florentine discussions with them,” Mr Vázquez explained.
Francisco’s Vázquez appointment comes at a time when the relationship between the Spanish government and the Vatican is tense. The Catholic Church has been opposed to various pieces of legislation promoted by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s administration including the same-sex marriage laws, a law allowing assisted human reproduction and measures to reduce religious education in schools. The government programme produced fierce condemnation from conservative sections of Spanish society. Public protests had the support of bishops and other high-ranking church officials, who, in some cases, called for public disobedience because they considered the new laws immoral.
The new ambassador to the Vatican mentioned that with his appointment Prime Minister Zapatero had made a goodwill gesture towards the more conservative elements in Spanish society. Some prominent figures of Spain’s conservative opposition party, the People’s Party, also welcomed the choice of Francisco Vázquez. The founder of the People’s Party, and Senator for the region of Galicia, Manuel Fraga, said that few people were as suited to the post at the Vatican as the Mayor of La Coruña. However, some on the left of Spanish politics asked whether a man who clearly puts his religious believes before politics should be given this important position at a time when politics and religion are at loggerheads.
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