They came out happy. Very happy. Cardinals Omella and Osoro (archbishops of Barcelona and Madrid, and president and vice president of the Episcopal Conference) had held two meetings, in just 48 hours, with Pope Francis. The first took place on Thursday, outside of the program, and lasted for almost two hours, in a relaxed atmosphere and without witnesses. The second, on Saturday at the Apostolic Palace together with the CEE spokesperson, more formal but that served to make official what had been spoken in the Casa Santa Marta: the renewal of the Spanish episcopate for, seven years after being proclaimed Supreme Pontiff, to try to open in Spain a stage marked by dialogue and the end of political confrontation.
Hell, according to Rouco Varela
But there was a third meeting, a week before, which was the one that definitely marked the future of the others. Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, the key man of the Spanish Church in the last two decades, also met with the Pope. After three years of unsuccessfully requesting a hearing and after the failures of his petitions to the new Nuncio in Spain, Bernardito Aúza, the Galician cardinal managed to be received by Bergoglio. He considered for years as a Spanish ‘vice-daddy’ long ago aligned itself with the the critics or ‘enemies’ of the Pope in the Vatican. But this time he had the mission of warning the pontiff of the urgency of ‘defending’ Spain against the ‘social-communist’ government. To convince him, he brought a large number of documents and dossiers on bishops and associations. Francisco, ecclesial sources explain, listened carefully to him. But after half an hour, Rouco Varela did not come out happy from the meeting.
Bergoglio, “perfectly informed” of what is happening in Spain
“The Pope is very aware of everything that happens in Spain,” Cardinal Omella pointed out this Saturday, leaving his meeting with Francis. And it is that, for the first time in a pontificate, Francis not only listens to the reports that come from the Nunciature or the Episcopal Conference. “This Pope has his own information channel,” an important ecclesiastic told elDiario.es, who added that “when Rouco went to Rome, Bergoglio already knew what he was going to tell him. And he let him know that his time has passed. “. And it is that Bergoglio is perfectly informed about Church-State relations, the drama of the coronavirus or the future of the Valley of the Fallen, without the biased messages that are sometimes attributed to the qualification of ‘Catholics’ in Spain.
Now, after seven years of the Argentine papacy, the renewal of the Spanish ecclesial leadership seems to have arrived (finally). In his private meeting with Osoro and Omella, Francisco reviewed the situation of the dioceses pending relief (in the next two years, more than a third), as well as names, styles and orientations of the possible candidates. As happened almost half a century ago, when Pope Paul VI commissioned Cardinal Tarancón and nuncio Dadaglio to destroy the Francoist bishops and look for prelates willing to lend a hand in the democratic transition, now Francisco counts on Osoro and Omella to, together with the Nuncio Aúza (with long political experience at the head of the Vatican delegation at the United Nations, and who relieved the controversial Renzo Fratini), find bishops committed to reforms in the Church, and bet on “unity and dialogue” with society, and with the Government, to face the problems of Spain.
In other words: that the Spanish Church ceases to be part of the problem, and contributes solutions to the problems that concern citizens, mostly (although less and less: the September CIS speaks of 59% of Catholics, the lowest data since there are records) believer: immigration, unemployment, the impact of the crisis caused by the coronavirus and the care of the weakest.
Goodbye to the ultras bishops
After the meetings these days, the episcopal leadership comes with very clear ideas, and a plan of action, both inside and outside the Church. In the first field, a clear commitment to the outgoing Church, especially focused on the most disadvantaged. In this sense, the next encyclical of Francis, dedicated to the post-coronavirus world, will give many clues for action. Along with this, the appointment of new bishops with a different style, different from the one that, for several decades, the Spanish Church has pastored: prelates in the line of John Paul II (and Benedict XVI), more concerned with doctrinal involution than with closeness to the faithful. Munilla, Reig, Sanz, Herráez, Asenjo or Rouco himself are an example of this retreating episcopate.
The Pope made a clear call for “dialogue” and “unity” of all social and political classes, including the Church, to reach agreements. This was stressed by both Omella and Osoro at the end of their meeting, in a brief appearance before the media. “We call for unity. That we all unite more, political parties, associations, civil institutions, unions, the same Church. Everyone. We must work together on all problems especially at this time.”
“We have to bet on dialogue, which sometimes we lack in today’s society,” the EEC president claimed before the media. “We have very strong wounds such as the issue of COVID-19, such as people who are left without work, the future, the issue of school, immigration and reception (…). The Pope asked us not to be unsupportive, neither with workers nor with migrants. ” “And continue with evangelization, which is our thing,” Omella concluded before the media. A Church less politicized and more present in the dramas of the people.
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