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Monday, 9 April, 2001, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Catholic church denies ETA ban
Archbishop of Madrid Antonio Maria Rouco Varela
The archbishop was reportedly keen to act
The Roman Catholic Church in Spain has denied reports that it is preparing to excommunicate members of the Basque separatist group, ETA.

The proposal, reported in Spain's El Mundo newspaper, was said to have been put forward by Madrid Archbishop Antonio Maria Rouco Varela.

He was quoted as saying that excommunication was justified because the militants were a serious threat to democracy.

Prayer rally at Catholic shrine at Arantzazu, Spain
Thousands of Spaniards prayed for peace at a rally on Saturday...
But a statement from the Catholic Church on Monday said no document on excommunication had been prepared, and the issue would not be discussed by a bishops' conference in two weeks' time, as reported in El Mundo.

"The text does not exist," said the statement, adding that the Spanish bishops conference would not even have the power to excommunicate.

"But that does not mean that bishops are not concerned about terroris, which is the greatest worry for out people and a major sin.

"Bishops have always condemned terrorism and will continue to condemn it, as well as all forms of collaboration and justification for terrorist activities."

According to El Mundo's report, the ban would have covered Catholics who had helped the guerrillas in their violent struggle for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain, as well as the militants themselves.

Basque independence rally by Euskal Herritarrok party on Saturday
...while hundreds marched for a Basque homeland
Worshippers would have been excluded from mass and other Catholic rituals - and excommunication would prevent ETA members having Catholic burials.

"I have no doubt over the legitimacy of the excommunication order because terrorism is a very serious crime against life and democracy," the archbishop was quoted as saying.

The Spanish Catholic church has been criticised by the government and the media for staying too passive in the face of ETA's terrorist campaign.

It is thought to be more than 50 years since anyone was excommunicated in Spain.

ETA has been blamed for 25 killings since it called off a truce in December 1999, but in all around 800 people have died since the militants took up arms in 1968.

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20 Mar 01 | Europe
Spanish politician shot dead
05 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Spain
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