Spanish bishops visit the Vatican fearing that the Pope will force them to investigate their abuse cases
On Monday the Spanish bishops began the traditional visit ad limina to the Pope, in which they are accountable to the pontiff for the work they do in the dioceses of our country, the problems they face and the challenges for the future. It is also the time to receive instructions on what to change. But it is not until this Thursday, the day before Bergoglio's birthday, that the face-to-face meetings begin.
A first group of 24 prelates will be investigated and audited by the ministries Vatican. They come from the ecclesiastical provinces of Santiago, Oviedo, Burgos, Pamplona and Tudela and Zaragoza. Later, in January, three other groups will attend: from January 10 to 15, 22 bishops from the ecclesiastical provinces of Tarragona, Barcelona and Valencia will attend; from January 17 to 22, 18 bishops from Granada, Seville and Mérida-Badajoz will visit and, finally, from January 24 to 29, 20 bishops from Toledo, Madrid, Valladolid and the Military Ordinariate will travel to the Holy See.
The Spanish bishops had not visited the Pope since 2014. In fact, Benedict XVI did not convene any ad limina. On this occasion, the Spanish ecclesial leadership arrives at the Holy See deeply divided, with certain reluctance and a great fear: that Francisco will give them a rapture for the inexplicable decision, unparalleled in all of Europe (only Spain and Italy skip the episcopal consensus in the Old Continent), of Failure to investigate historical cases of pedophilia in Spain.
For months now, dioceses have been committed to produce thoughtful reports, based on "absolutely outdated" forms, with "too clerical" questions and with little information about the social, economic and political reality of each diocese, some sources point out. In fact, some prelates have chosen to prepare their own stories, based on interviews with the faithful, religious life and personalities close to the Church.
However, the main fear of the Spanish bishops is in the fact that the Pope has his own agenda and informants in Spain, beyond the official channels. Something that has been contrasted this past week, with the Bergoglio meeting with the second vice president, Yolanda Díaz or the announcement of appointment of former minister Isabel Celaá as the new ambassador to the Vatican, two facts of which the Spanish hierarchy knew nothing at all. In fact, several bishops were "perplexed" by the situation, and by the fact that these events occurred just before the visit of the Episcopal Conference to the Pope.
It is evident that Francisco is well informed of the Spanish reality. And that, unlike what happened in the days of Rouco Varela, where nothing reached Rome without passing through the filter of the cardinal of Madrid, the information no longer comes solely from official circles. The language has allowed Bergoglio to maintain direct contact with countless Spanish priests, religious and laity, and also to be interested in the opinion of social, political and cultural leaders in our country.
Sources of that Church that dialogues with the pontiff through other channels discard the accusations of contempt for Spain that the most conservative sectors pour out, the same ones that mark him as "Communist Pope" for meeting with the leader of United We Can, or of "I hate Spain" for making it clear that, if you finally come to Santiago de Compostela, it will not be a State trip. On the contrary, they point out, Bergoglio is very interested in this country, and confesses that he is concerned about the political and religious drift that is taking place in Spain.
This Thursday, the Pope will be able to meet some of his strongest opponents in the Spanish episcopate, such as Monsignor Munilla, who has just been taken from San Sebastián, transferring it to Orihuela-Alicante, or Jesús Sanz, who has seen his attempts to reach Madrid as military archbishop frustrated. Francisco knows it and, in his Argentine way, will see to it that they too realize it, they say. In case other gestures, or other decisions, weren't enough.
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