Despite having reached 89 years of age, the cardinal Fernando Sebastián Aguilar, died on the afternoon of this Thursday in Malaga, was still active and was an authoritative opinion before the Pope Francisco, with whom he talked frequently and to whom he offered advice on the complicated and not always peaceful development of Spanish Catholicism.
The Argentine pontiff rewarded those services by making him a cardinal, the only Spaniard among 16, in his first consistory, five years ago now. Rectified thus an anomaly of the previous pontificates. Every time that John Paul II or Benedict XVI announced the creation of cardinals, Sebastian was included in all the lists of candidates. He had plenty of prestige, theological work, ecclesiastical career and services to the Roman Church in Spain. He was marginalized again and again. That Francisco made him Prince of the Church, which is how the cardinals are known, on the first occasion he had, did not cause any surprise, although it was strange. In contemporary Catholicism, these titles are rarely granted to people of such advanced age. Cardinal comes from the Latin 'thistle' or hinge, that is, a point of support, a hinge. They are the hinges that facilitate the functioning of the clerical building around its maximum leader, the Pope.
Precedents to that of Sebastián are counted in the last hundred years with the finger of a hand, among others the theologians Yves Congar (French, named at 90 years) and Hans Urs von Balthasar (Swiss, at 83), distinguished at the point of dying (the second, he died two days before taking possession), both after having been persecuted or ignored by the inquisitors before the Second Vatican Council. In Spain, there is only the precedent of Estepa Llaurens, a cardinal in 2010 when he was 84 years old.
Fernando Sebastián, a Claretian, before becoming bishop, had been the favorite theologian of Cardinal Vicente Enrique y Tarancón, the prelate who led the slow (perhaps still unfinished) transition of the Catholic episcopate from Francoist national-Catholicism to the current democracy. It was a compliment that marked down a race called big missions. The energetic restoration imposed by the Pole John Paul II relegated Sebastian to secondary positions, which he exercised in the Episcopal Conference with brilliance. He owes some of the best episcopal documents of those years.
Just two years ago he published his autobiography with the title Memories with hope, in which he narrated his experiences during the Transition, among others the negotiations he led against the socialist government of Felipe González, with the vice president Alfonso Guerra as interlocutor. He told it like this: "I saw myself with Alfonso Guerra in La Moncloa. We understood each other well. It was not difficult to know what could be done and what could not be done. War had a lot of power. In those offices everything that was done in the ministries was reviewed. He once said to me: "It suits you to get along with us; the arrival of PSOE to power is irreversible. " I thought it was a bit strong and I replied: "Well, we'll see. The Church has dealt with several 'irreversible empires' that have fallen by the wayside. " Sometimes we talk about religion. He summed up the essence of atheism thus: "Atheism is a starting point. Whether God exists or not is a problem of his. " In those meetings, usually in the afternoon, we sought with sincerity formulas of compatibility and coexistence. I have the impression that things have gotten worse. Distrust has resurged. "
The deceased cardinal so much the rupture with the dictatorship. "In the last years of the Franco regime, the young priests and the most informed Christians were convinced that the Church had to detach itself from the regime. Since 1955, I was not satisfied for ethical reasons. I kept thinking that the Uprising of 36 had been inevitable, but it seemed to me that the resulting order could not be final.. The most negative [de Franco] it was the implacable purification of the first years of the postwar period, detentions, forced labor, executions ",
He wrote a lot, but it is worth pointing out his latest books, in addition to the autobiography already cited: Ten things that Pope Francis wants you to know about the family (2016), Reflect with the Amoris Laetitia '(2017) and Hope does not disappoint (2017).
He was born in Calatayud (Zaragoza), on December 14, 1929, he entered the Congregation of Missionaries Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretian Missionaries) in Vic in 1945, completed philosophical and theological studies in the seminars of the congregation, in Solsona and Valls and was ordained a priest in Valls in 1953 by Cardinal Arriba and Castro. Immediately, he was sent to Rome to specialize in Theology, and later, in 1956, to the University of Leuven (Belgium)
In 1967 he began his teaching work at the Pontifical University of Salamanca, where he was, in 1970, dean of the Faculty of Theology and only a year later rector, a position he held until 1979. Appointed Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical University of Salamanca, in 2001 received the Gold Medal of the institution for his services as professor, dean, rector and Grand Chancellor. Before he had founded, in 1966, the magazine Living Church, that he led for a decade. A progressive theologian in his beginnings, he later had severe encounters with his congregation colleagues, among others with Benjamín Forcano and Evaristo Villar, and promoted punishments to other outstanding colleagues. He also confronted the Parliament of Navarre for severe differences of opinion on the war crimes of the Franco regime and the repression during the postwar period in that community.
As prelate, he also lived a hectic life. In 1979 he was appointed Bishop of León; in 1991, apostolic administrator of the diocese of Malaga and in 1993 archbishop of Pamplona and bishop of Tudela, where he retired. He frequently represented the Spanish episcopate in Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops, forming part of the preparatory commission for the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops dedicated to Europe.
In the Spanish Episcopal Conference he held the position of general secretary (between 1982 and 1988) and was his vice president from 1993 to 2005, in various mandates. Since 2007 he lived in Malaga, where he continued to collaborate with the diocese very actively.