“Right now, nobody knows anything. They all have their candidates but, deep down, the only consensus is that I wish Luis would continue. And that is not possible". A member of the Executive Commission of the Episcopal Conference summarizes the uncertainty with which the Spanish Church approaches a beginning of the course marked by the expectation of a 'hot autumn' in negotiations with the Government and with the need to elect a new secretary general and spokesperson, after the resignation of the current one, Luis Argüello, appointed Archbishop of Valladolid by the Pope.
The departure of Argüello -which will take effect in November, but which was formalized on July 30- has generated a lot of concern, and the occasional saber rattling in the House of the Church, since the position of secretary and spokesman it is an undeniable media showcase and, also, a position of power both in the internal organization of the Episcopate and in the public representation of the Spanish Church.
"We are not going to find another like him," they point out from Añastro, headquarters of the Episcopal Conference. In fact, during the summer there have been quite a few bishops who have asked Argüello to reconsider his decision and remain in office until he finishes his mandate, in the spring of next year. But the Archbishop of Valladolid, as reported by elDiario.es, It was clear to him from the beginning that, if appointed titular bishop, he would abandon his responsibilities in the CEE.
Confirmed the refusal of Argüello, the episcopal ropes have begun to move. The profile that is sought, in principle, is that of an auxiliary bishop, with organizational and communicative capacity, although a 'coup de effect' is not ruled out and that it be a lay person (there is even a woman among the candidates) who holds the 'number 3' in the Episcopal Conference. There are also doubts about whether, as is unwritten tradition, the elected man (or woman) will maintain the two positions, or the spokesperson for the General Secretariat will be divided.
This detail is especially relevant, especially considering that the Spanish Church is watching with concern the movements of La Moncloa in the coming weeks, with open negotiations on tax matters –Obra Pía and tax payments such as the ICIO or the IBI on the table– and foreseeable clashes over the future of the Valley of the Fallen, abortion, euthanasia or educational reform, and which will surely require a voice from the Church.
Today there are several candidates who have the support of different groups of bishops. Along with absolutely unthinkable names – some prelate has even come to propose the previous spokesman, Juan Antonio Martínez Camino, as a clearly conservative possibility – there are others that have sounded strong for a long time, in addition to some 'hidden' candidates.
The name that has sounded the most to date and that, until a few weeks ago, seemed certain, is that of the auxiliary bishop of Toledo, César García Magán. However, other candidates have emerged strongly since Argüello reported that there was no turning back: among them, the one proposed by the still general secretary: the auxiliary bishop of Santiago de Compostela, Francisco José Prieto. The advances in high-speed trains enhance this appointment, which would also 'repair' the 'no' that the Archbishop of Compostela, Julián Barrio, gave four years ago to the possibility that his then auxiliary (and today Bishop of Astorga, Jesús Fernández) will occupy the position. The end of the double Year of Compostela and the near exit of the archbishop would facilitate this possibility.
Precisely, the communications complicate the possibilities of what, for many, is Cardinal Omella's candidate, the Bishop of Teruel, José Antonio Satué. The prelate, who brings fresh ideas from Rome about how the House of the Church should function, has two factors against him: he has barely been a prelate for months in the capital of emptied Spain (a diocese with a small population, but very large), and that there are no trains or motorways connecting Madrid with Teruel. And this reality, in principle so pedestrian, makes it extremely difficult to exercise a position that requires a large presence in the capital.
The other great candidate, probably to his chagrin (although he is surely the most prepared of all) is the auxiliary bishop of Madrid, José Cobo, one of the most desired among Añastro's staff, who values his affable personality and his ease with communication. A bishop, furthermore, who is in charge of work with migrants and refugees, one of the 'friendly faces' of the Church in a society that finds it increasingly difficult to value the presence of the Catholic in public life without sounding like mothballs or ultra motion. The problem with Cobo is in the succession (not yet raised) of a Cardinal Osoro who returned from Rome with the support of the Pope to continue his mission. A situation that is not repeated in the case of another assistant, Arturo Ros, who could be released after, they say, the imminent departure of Cardinal Cañizares.
For the first time in a long time, and with the exception of José María Gil Tamayo (whom everyone took for granted, as it happened), this possibility is on the table. And at that point, many of the eyes turn to Raquel Pérez Sanjuan, secretary of the Education Commission and a person highly valued for her ability to work and her clarity in the analysis. It remains to be seen whether a club as select and exclusive as that of the Spanish bishops would know how to take the step and grant a lay person (and even more so, a woman) a responsibility that, with the reform of the Curia in hand, should be in the hands of professionals. Pérez Sanjuan is a laywoman and she belongs to the Teresian Association.
The great 'covered' for many is none other than the deputy secretary for Economic Affairs of the CEE and former president of COPE (some suggest that he left this post at the end of the course to deal with the control of the House of the Church and the negotiations with government), Fernando Giménez Barriocanal. A possibility that he denies, alluding that he is happy with his full-time position at the university, but that many prelates see as a real possibility, perhaps the only one, at a particularly difficult time in Church-State relations and with many other changes. internal ones to come, among them the one of the corporative communication of the Episcopal Conference.
The other option is the commitment to continuity, opting for the current deputy secretary, Carlos López Segovia, who is not known to have the skills to deal with the Spokesperson, although anything can happen. Also, the surprise, the 'rabbit in the hat', which no one doubts can be removed when the time comes. There are qualified people to hold both positions (secretary and/or spokesperson). It remains to be seen if there is the will to take a step that the Pope is encouraging to be taken throughout the Church. Also in Spanish.
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