The Prime Minister of Spain has responded to Roman Catholic leaders after they criticised government policy supporting gay marriage and abortion.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero spoke out during a speech in the Huelva town of Almonte yesterday following comments made last Sunday in Madrid at a Catholic Church rally led by Cardinals and Bishops.

Clearly angry, Mr Zapatero defended his government’s policies, saying they were supported by the “immense majority” of the Spanish population and that everyone had rights in Spain, whether they belonged to a religion or not.

A spokesperson for Mr Zapatero’s PSOE Socialist party added that in a democratic environment there was no place for legislation regarding faith.

Jose Blanco, secretary of the party’s federal executive, went further, referring to the Church hierarchy “and their lies” and reminding them that “lying is a sin.”

Pope Benedict XVI addressed the rally on Sunday by a videolink from Rome.

He told the crowd, estimated at 150,000 people, that the family is “based on the unbreakable union of man and woman and represents the privileged environment where human life is welcomed and protected from the beginning to its natural end.”

The Archbishop of Mardid claimed that the government’s family policy was a retrograde step for human rights.

The Zapatero government introduced full gay marriage in Spain in 2005 and the main opposition party, Partido Popular, has said it does not intend to overturn it.

The Socialists and PP are only a few percentage points apart in opinion polls and the country.

Many commentators have viewed the rally, which was supported by PP, as an attempt by the Church to affect the outcome of March’s general election.