The bishops have chosen this morning, in an unusually fast vote, their new secretary general and spokesman, on a list of candidates decided last night by the Standing Committee of the Spanish Episcopal Conference (CEE). This is the auxiliary bishop of Valladolid, Luis Argüello García, born on May 16, 1953 in Meneses de Campos (Palencia). He will hold office for five years, until November 2023. It was Pope Francis who appointed him bishop on April 14, 2016, to assist the archbishop and president of the EEC, Ricardo Blázquez. Until then, Argüello was vicar general and member of the Economic Affairs Council, since 2011. He replaces José María Gil Tamayo, a priest of Opus Dei who has just been appointed bishop of Ávila and who served as spokesperson for five years. He had publicly renounced a possible re-election.
The arrival of the new episcopal spokesman has many readings, but the main one underlines the current distribution of power and sensitivities in the episcopate, until this morning openly influenced, in its majority, by Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela and, therefore, little affine in the pastoral style and the reforms proposed by Pope Francis. Four years ago that Rouco retired as archbishop of Madrid and three in the presidency of the EEC, but the short list of candidates elected last night by the Standing Committee and put to a vote this morning shows to what extent the hand of the Galician cardinal was still elongated. La Permanente only proposed three candidates, the elected Argüello García, and the priests Jorge Fernández Sangrador, vicar general of the diocese of Oviedo, and also the priest Carlos López Segovia, a veteran official of the Casa de la Iglesia as deputy secretary for general affairs of the EEC.
The proposal of the Permanent Commission caused surprise, as soon as it was known, by how it was presented. Initially, the official communiqué informed of the proposed names, without any pre-eminence, to clarify minutes later that in the decision of the highest body of the EEC occupied the first position Fernández Sangrador. Immediately, interpretations emerged. One was evident. The Commission indicated their preferences and Sangrador is a man of the politically more combative and conservative sector of the episcopate, in line with his superior, Archbishop Jesus San Montes, a Franciscan very similar to Cardinal Rouco.
Had the first of the three from the Permanent come out, it would have become clear again that the Spanish episcopate remains largely foreign to the pastoral style that Francis wants to impose and would justify the comments so many times heard in the Vatican and in the progressive sectors of Spanish Catholicism , that is to say, that the Spanish Episcopal Conference is a complicated terrain that frightens away all possibility of the Argentine Pope coming to Spain on an official trip. Francisco has already scheduled, by 2019, half a dozen trips, one of them to Morocco, and continues to ignore the repeated requests of the Spanish episcopate.
It has surprised that the rest of the prelates of the assembly, 120 in total, resigned to present their own candidates for office (they could do so by gathering ten signatures), which left out of the voting who seemed the most qualified aspirant, the auxiliary bishop of Santiago de Compostela, Jesús Fernández.
Another conclusion about the triple list raised to the plenary session, with Sangrador indicated as the preferred one, is that the leadership of the EEC is still controlled by the Rouco sector. They integrate the Permanent one twenty prelates and works in theory as a kind of council of ministers of the organization. Among its members include active Cardinals, Ricardo Blázquez, (archbishop of Valladolid) Carlos Osoro (Madrid), Antonio Cañizares (Valencia) and Juan José Omella (Barcelona), and virtually all archbishops.
This morning's voting is far-reaching for the future of the EEC, taking into account the powers of the secretary general and spokesperson and that next spring all other episcopal offices will be renewed, firstly the presidency. It is often said that the bishops were able to vote and elect this morning even an unbaptized and, of course, a woman. It has been seen that no. There was not even a woman among the aspirants, and that had been suggested on the ballots over the past weeks.
Among the attributions that the statutes of the EEC assign to the general secretary and spokesman are the one of "proposing to the Permanent Commission the creation of the technical organisms that are convenient for the good running of the Secretariat, and direct those already created"; to be the link between the different organs of the Conference and between these and the bishops; choose and transmit information to all Bishops on the problems of general interest for the Church in Spain; moderate, on behalf of the Conference, all the Secretariats and technical bodies dependent on it, both in order to rationalize their work and the proper management of their particular budgets, and inform public opinion of the activities and resolutions of the Plenary Assembly and the Permanent Commission, as well as any other matter of public interest.