Two Catholic archbishops considered to be moderates aligned with the policies of Pope Francis have been elected by fellow bishops to preside over the Spanish Catholic bishops conference, with the coalition government led by Socialist President Pedro Sánchez said to be relieved at the bishops’ choice.
Cardinal Juan José Omella, Archbishop of Barcelona, was elected to a four-year term as President of the Bishops conference on a second-round of voting, replacing the conservative Cardinal Ricardo Blázquez, Archbishop of Valladolid. At the same time, the bishops elected the moderate Cardinal Carlos Osoro, Archbishop of Madrid, to the Vice-Presidency of the conference through the year 2024.
The election of the two Cardinals represents a shift toward moderation within the Spanish Catholic church, dominated for most of the last two decades by conservative prelates allied to Cardinal Blázquez and his arch-conservative predecessor in the presidency of the bishops conference, Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, former Archbishop of Madrid.
Rouco Varela served as President of the bishops conference from 1999-2005 and again from 2008-2014, with Blázquez serving as his V-P from 2008-14, then succeeding him in the presidency from 2014-2020.
Omella, considered a moderate aligned to the policies of the Vatican under Pope Francis, was critical of the preventive detention of Catalan political leaders during their trial on charges related to the October 2017 independence referendum in Catalonia and in 2017 tried to mediate between former President Mariano Rajoy and former Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont to find a negotiated settlement to the Catalan political crisis.
Osoro took the Vatican’s position in refusing to oppose the disinterment and removal of former dictator Francisco Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen monument outside Madrid, saying it was up to Spanish government authorities and the courts to decide on the matter.
The coalition government led by Sánchez is reportedly relieved at the bishops’ selection, given some potentially thorny church-state issues that are on the horizon, including the government’s new education legislation that would replace Religion as mandatory coursework for Spanish students with a class on ethics. The Sánchez government is also reviewing church tax records with the aim of ensuring that the Catholic church pays property tax on all buildings and facilities that are not specifically used to celebrate liturgical services.
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