Feelings run high in Madrid ahead of Ratzinger’s obscenely expensive visit
MY first WTF? moment of the day occurred when I spotted this photograph in the New York Times:
It’s a picture taken by Marta Ramoneda of 200 portable confessional booths set up in Madrid’s Retiro Park for Pope Ratzinger’s visit this week (he arrives tomorrow).
And today, ahead of the tarted-up tyrant’s World Youth Day visit, a massive protest is scheduled to take place. Thousands of Spaniards are incensed over the obscene cost of the visit, said to be in the region of Â£44-million.
Among the protesters is the Rev Eubilio RodrÃguez, who described the cost as”scandalous.”
It is shameful. It discredits the church.
Father RodrÃguez, 67, is among the 120 clergymen working among the poor in Madrid who have signed a lengthy petition deploring the visit this week on many grounds â€” from its cost to what they see as an inappropriate melding of church and state.
Government and church officials insist the cost to taxpayers will be minimal and the lift to local businesses substantial. Spain’s businesses community came up with Â£14- million to pay for various events and the pilgrims will pay about Â£27- million themselves. Other donations should cover the rest, the officials say.
“The public administration helped us in only two ways,” said Fernando GimÃ©nez Barriocanal, the financial director of World Youth Day 2011. The pilgrims will be allowed to sleep in public buildings like schools. And businesses will be able to get tax deductions for their contributions, he said.
But critics are calling the claims ridiculous. Father RodrÃguez and others who signed the 10-page petition say the costs are always fuzzy when the Pope swans to town. They suspect that the cost of extra security, of collecting trash and of stress on health systems will add up to millions for taxpayers. For one thing, the pilgrims have been granted an 80 percent discount on public transportation, which some find particularly galling because subway fares just went up by 50 percent.
The priests are not alone in making such claims. Esther LÃ³pez BarcelÃ³, youth coordinator for the small United Left party said:
They still can’t tell us how much the Pope’s visit cost two years ago. Every time he comes here, the figures become opaque.
According to this report, dozens of liberal and left-wing groups demanding a secular state say they will stage at least one march against the visit, despite being repeatedly refused permission to demonstrate by the authorities. A top trade union has also called a strike on the city’s metro network to coincide with the visit.
Protesters – who criticise the church for everything from clerical child abuse to its support for the Franco regime – are incensed by official attempts to block social media sites through which demonstrations are being planned.
Attempts made this week in a Madrid public library to access blogs and websites where protest plans were discussed produced the message:
Access denied due to content policy – you are trying to access unauthorised content.
The Madrid municipality rejected censorship claims, saying the filter they use denies access to sites that may contain sexual content or allow for illegal downloading of films and music.