The Roman Catholic Church’s most senior diplomat has set the tone for his visit to Spain today with some oblique criticisms of the country’s government.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See’s Secretary of State, told an Italian newspaper:

“I have been invited by the episcopal conference to deliver a conference on the 60 years of the Declaration of Human Rights. I will have a meeting with the King of Spain, the Prime Minister and other politicians.

“Rights are something serious, based in natural law, and cannot be confused with desires.”

In December the Vatican opposed a statement confirming the universal human rights of lesbian and gay people at the UN. 66 nations, Spain and the UK among them, backed the statement.

The Spanish government under Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has had a tense relationship with the Church after it legalised gay marriage in 2005, reformed divorce laws and tried and failed to negotiate a peace agreement with terrorist group ETA in 2006.

During last year’s elections the Church was accused of interfering in the political process.

Spain’s ambassador to the Vatican met with Church officials to protest.

Ambassador Francisco Vazquez expressed his “perplexity and surprise” at a statement issued by the Spanish Bishop’s Conference.

“Catholics may support and join different parties it is also true that not all (electoral) programmes are equally compatible with the faith and Christian demands in life,” the bishops said.

This was widely interpreted as an instruction to the faithful not to vote for parties that support gay marriage or negotiate with Basque terrorists.

During the campaign Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said that the Church could no longer impose its morality on the country.

Ahead of his visit to Spain Cardinal Bertone said:

“Catholics traditionally respect legitimately established political power.

“The Church is always ready for a fruitful collaboration with authorities, in the context of a healthy secularity.

“Obviously one cannot stay silent if we see that in some way the principles of natural law or the liberty of the Church are undermined.”

The Spanish government intends to loosen rules around abortion despite Catholic opposition.

The Roman Catholics also object to the new curriculum introduced in 2007.

Lessons on sexuality, human rights, the equality of men and women and the structure of political systems are taught at both primary and secondary level.