* Pope sounds alarm over "disintegration" of family values
* Calls for laws to help families have and educate children
* Croatia, Catholic bastion in Balkans, wants to enter EU
By Philip Pullella
ZAGREB, June 5 (Reuters) - Pope Benedict warned on Sunday
that the traditional family in Europe was "disintegrating" under
the weight of secularisation and called for laws to help couples
cope with the costs of having and educating children.
On the second day of his trip to Croatia, a bastion of Roman
Catholicism in the Balkans, the pope said an open-air mass for
hundreds of thousands of people and hammered home one of the
major themes of his papacy.
"Unfortunately, we are forced to acknowledge the spread of a
secularisation which leads to the exclusion of God from life and
the increasing disintegration of the family, especially in
Europe," he said in his sermon on the edge of the capital.
The 84-year-old Benedict's sermon was the latest in a series
of salvos against what the Church sees as growing
anti-Catholicism and "Christianophobia" in Europe.
Speaking on the day Croatia, whose population of 4.4 million
people is 90 percent Catholic, celebrates its "Family Day", he
railed against practices such abortion, cohabitation as a
"substitute for marriage", and artificial birth control.
The pope urged Catholic families throughout Europe not to
give in to a creeping "secularised mentality" and called for
"legislation which supports families in the task of giving birth
to children and educating them".
The sermon reflected the Vatican's belief that the Catholic
Church in Europe is under assault by some national governments
and European institutions over issues such as gay marriage,
abortion, religious education and the use of Christian religious
symbols in public places.
Last year the Vatican criticised plans to propose
legislation in Britain, known as the Equality Bill, that could
force churches to hire homosexuals or transsexuals.
The Vatican was also at the forefront of a campaign that
overturned a ruling by the continent's top human rights court
that would have banned crucifixes in schools in Italy.
At the start of the trip on Saturday, the pope criticised
the European Union, saying its bureaucracy is overly centralised
and sometimes neglected historical differences and national
The Vatican strongly supports Croatia's bid to become an EU
member, which it is expected to achieve in 2013. This would put
another overwhelmingly Catholic country in the bloc.
Benedict's trip to Zagreb is intended to encourage the local
Church, 20 years after independence and 16 years after the end
of the Balkan wars.
Later on Sunday he will pray at the tomb of Cardinal
Alojzije Stepinac, who was accused of collaborating with the
Nazi-allied rulers during World War II. The communists sentenced
him to 16 years in confinement after the war.
The late Pope John Paul beatified Stepinac in 1998, putting
him one step away from sainthood.
(Additional reporting by Igor Ilic, Editing by Lin Noueihed)
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