Spanish clerics cool on Pope Francis’s fresh approach

Pontiff’s interview failed to move the bishops but the grassroots took heart

Carlos Osoro, right, with the Archbishop of Madrid Antonio María Rouco Varela.
Carlos Osoro, right, with the Archbishop of Madrid Antonio María Rouco Varela.j. c. cárdenas (EFE)

Even the interest of non-Catholics was piqued by Pope Francis’s interview last week. But his lengthy declarations have been met largely with silence in the Church hierarchy in Spain. The press office of Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela said the leader of the Episcopal Conference, the Spanish synod, would not offer an opinion. Neither would the majority of Spain’s archbishops. Only Carlos Osoro, prelate of Valencia, held forth on the pope’s views.

“It takes us to the root of the Gospel and gives us fundamental tools to work with,” he said in reference to the pope’s words on the obsession of many priests over issues such as homosexuality, abortion and divorce. Osoro is seen as a leading contender to replace Rouco Varela, who has reached retirement age for an archbishop at 77. Osoro also agreed that there are “sexist positions that have to change” within the Church. “As the pope said, this is not about hierarchy. We have to go deeper; we cannot always measure things in terms of power.”

Spain’s COPE Catholic radio station dismissed the interview peevishly, noting that Francis’s predecessors have also come out in defense of women. “Too porteño [a resident of Buenos Aires],” said one commentator.

Jesús de la Heras, editor of the Conference’s weekly Ecclesia, told EL PAÍS: “The pope’s words are a new and eloquent testimony to his human quality, his profound spirituality and the sagacity of his pastor’s heart. He is aware that society is not experiencing times of change, but a change of era that requires a fresher, more open Church and one closer to the people.” “He speaks from the Gospel; it was by the book encyclical, but on the front pages of all the newspapers,” enthused one modernist, opposed to the traditional hierarchical Catholic structure.

Emilia Robles, coordinator of the progressive Proconcil group, says the pope “highlighted inadequate paths from the past that were morally narrow and lacking in mercy. With calm and while waiting for reforms, he gave me confidence. Moving away from clericalism and broadening consensus will take time; finding a place for women needs prior steps, with the involvement of women.”

Theologist Maria Pau Traynor Vilanova “liked the tone with which he spoke of his ecclesiastical preferences. His answer on homosexuality was intelligent. I will not say anything about female ministry because we have to go much further. The entire ministerial doctrine of the Church has to be revised.”

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