The archbishop of Valladolid, Ricardo Blázquez, was elected the new head of the Spanish bishops by the Episcopal Conference (CEE) on Wednesday.
The 72-year-old replaces Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, a controversial figure during his four terms in office, which ran from 1999 to 2005, and 2008 to the present.
This is not the first time that Blázquez has replaced Rouco, having left his post as a bishop in Bilbao to preside the CEE in the interim years. This time around, Blázquez obtained an overwhelming majority of the votes, 60 out of 73.
During his previous tenure, Blázquez chose negotiation over confrontation
The choice came as no surprise, but perhaps indicates that the list of candidates is not as long or varied as it could be. Pope Francis had made no indication about any personal preferences in this important election for the Spanish Catholic Church.
Blázquez is considered an affable, moderate man whose attitude is in stark contrast with that of Rouco, an incendiary figure who gave the media many headlines on the subjects of abortion, same-sex marriage and education reform. He actively opposed the policies of the former Socialist administration of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and participated in street protests against initiatives that he saw as an attack on family values.
During his own previous tenure, Blázquez chose negotiation over confrontation and extracted a very beneficial deal from Zapatero, granting a larger budget to the bishops out of taxpayers’ money.
His background as a child growing up in poor, rural postwar Spain resonates with many of the 20,000 priests still working today. Blázquez has been described by someone who worked with him as “one of ours: resistant, austere, unaffected, quiet, polite and empathetic.”