Assessing the performance of bishops

As an occasional reader of the lively but provocative Spanish site, usually I’m either amused or indignant at their critical take on Catholic beliefs, life and leadership. Overall, the blog is conservative in tone, but they believe in casting a sober light on the performance of bishops, as can be seen in this recent rather uncharitable assessment of Spain’s retired bishops ( It must be due the healthy Spanish air that so many of them remain active well into their nineties.

While not at all suggesting that here in Ireland we should be offering such a trenchant, no-holds-barred critique of our own bishops’ effective leadership, it does suggest that the priests and people of a diocese should have some say in the selection of their bishop. There is something refreshing and thought-provoking in this Spanish writer’s candid assessment of how the church in his own country has been served by its episcopal leaders. It is, at least, a sober Lenten reflection on what legacy our own team of bishops will leave behind.

(The rough translation below is my own. Pat Rogers)

Our emeritus bishops

Unless I’m mistaken, there are 34 of them, and most are already lost in oblivion. The loss of many of them is hardly to be regretted by the Church… which says a lot about the inconsistent quality of their appointment. Many of them were not much good and in not a few cases they were a disaster.

At the top of the list, by age, stands Don Damián Iguacén, the excellent bishop emeritus of Tenerife, who has turned 101 and who seems to be still active despite his age. He devoted his emeritus years to a splendid exercise of the ministry and that makes him a glory to our episcopate. The Lord whom he served so well will receive him when he arrives, which cannot be long hence, with the loving embrace due to the good and faithful servant.

Next to him is Cardinal Archbishop emeritus of Toledo, Don Francisco Álvarez Martínez, who is about to turn 92 in July. In his diocese they remember him with great affection, as a dedicated, zealous shepherd. They also mention the frugality of his lifestyle. He had an impossible task of being successor to the great Don Marcelo. Aware of the difficulties some successors have, he wanted to leave the diocese in order not to create problems for his own successor Cañizares. The latter was a good enough pastor and administrator but could never fill his predecessor’s shoes. I have listed two great bishops, Don Damián and Don Francisco, from a time when there were too many incompetents in office.

Cardinal Estepa, Archbishop emeritus of the military, is next in order on the list. In January he reached the age of 91 and no longer appears at the Plenary of the Episcopal Conference. He obtained the red hat as a favour from Benedict XVI, but already without a vote in Conclave. His time as auxiliary Bishop of Tarancón was surely the least bad of his appointments. I think that the Spanish Church has already forgotten Estepa and history will forget him even more.

Next, by age, comes Gabino Díaz Merchán, who was 91 last February. A terrible Archbishop of Oviedo (in my opinion, naturally) and equally bad as president of the Episcopal Conference. Already two archbishops of Oviedo have been trying to repair what he destroyed with his absurd complex about the “son of martyrs.” He must have had such a feeling of failure when he became emeritus and disappeared.

Torija de la Fuente, bishop emeritus of Ciudad Real, and native of Toledo as was Gabino, has already celebrated 90 years. He resembled his predecessor but with much less personality. He brought down Ciudad Real, aided by his successor, although being a less conflictive diocese than the Asturians, the faithful have still maintained some of their parents’ traditions.

Elías Yanes, archbishop emeritus of Zaragoza, has already passed 89 and in my opinion, which is of course arguable, was even worse than the the man from Oviedo, both within his diocese and as president of the Episcopal Conference. With his extremely unpleasant personality that was unlike Gabino’s, he left Saragossa like a nest of vipers with himself as the flute player. For some time now he has not appeared by the Episcopal Conference, even in a mummified state.

The emeritus of San Sebastián, Setién, also 89 years old, seems to have disappeared since in 2000 his resignation was accepted by reasons of health more false than Judas. He had won the hatred of many Spanish Catholics and no one except ETA missed him. He was Yanes’s friend and always supported him.

Antonio Montero, archbishop emeritus of Mérida-Badajoz, will turn 89 in August. Of the same breed as the previous five, he had in his favour a much more sympathetic temperament than either Setién or Yanes. He has been out of sight since his retirement, but some years ago I saw him a couple of times in a wheelchair.

Buxarrais, bishop emeritus of Málaga, after an unfortunate stopover in Zamora, was notable for his absolute inadequacy for a mitre. It is inexplicable how he could have become a bishop and he himself realized his incapacity by requesting early retirement. After that he went on to serve prisoners and elders very admirably. His problems were with the head, and not of the heart, which is great. He was 87 in December.

Fernando Sebastián, a Claretian, a progressive clergymen and the right hand of Tarancón, proved worthy of the mitre. He and Setién were colleagues in the Pontifical College in Salamanca, and are the two most prominent intellectuals so far. In Pamplona archdiocese of which he is emeritus, he improved considerably on the government of Cirarda. Pope Francisco created him a cardinal, and while he had no vote in the Conclave he seems to want to revive his youthful zeal. In December he turned 87 years old, but when I saw him in the last Plenary of the Episcopal Conference he looked very well.

Victorio Oliver, emeritus of Orihuela-Alicante, also turned 87 in December. He was another of Tarancón’s assistants and they were all rather poor. He disappeared after his resignation without anyone missing him.

Noguer, bishop emeritus of Huelva, is 86 years old. He was anonymous while bishop of the Andalusian city and in his retirement is as if he had never existed. Surely he was not made a bishop for any manifest progressive spirit. Although he is one of the last bishops appointed by Paul VI we cannot imagine that he saw in him. Most likely, the Pope signed the appointment without having any idea whom he was naming for Cadiz.

Soler Perdigó, 84 years old emeritus of poor, battered Gerona, was a remarkable though not unique imposition in that diocese. He is a bishop appointed by John Paul II and one of the crosses suffered by Cardinal Carles. In Gerona he gave a very poor performance, and in Barcelona too.

Uriarte, emeritus of San Sebastián, was a disgrace to his diocese and to Basque Catholicism, with the aggravating fact that an intelligent bad guy, as Uriarte is, does more harm than a fool. He is 83 years old and very active. I will never understand how other dioceses continue to invite him to give conferences, retreats to clergy etc … We must look forward to a new, much better atmosphere in the Basque Church.

Diéguez Reboredo, emeritus of Tuy-Vigo, 82, was a discreet bishop with a good sense of balance. Retired to Santiago, he is truly retired he says, though he does not refuse to lend his help to the archdiocese if he is asked to do so and is often present on ecclesial solemnities. He is far removed from the previous batch, who were disastrous for Spanish Catholicism.

Traserra, emeritus of Solsona, 82, was another cross on the shoulders of Cardinal Carles, in the Catalan diocese that Igió, after his years as auxiliary, attempted to amend something of the disastrous pontificate of his predecessor, Deig.

Fray Carlos Amigo, Franciscan, Cardinal Archbishop Emeritus of Seville, is a person for whom I have personal preference and I think I have the right to have it. What I will never say of an active bishop, I can say of an emeritus. With me he only lavished welcome, forgiveness, sympathy, generosity … After the death of Don Marcelo there was no cardinal to approach him in presence and dignity … He truly seems a Prince of the Church, but with a kindness like the most humble of the Franciscans. Despite his 82 years Don Carlos is very active, ready to go anywhere you call, no matter the distance. And all those activities fulfill him. “Making Church”… I cannot think of another phrase that better defines his presence. With enormous dignity, with total devotion to the people and leaving everyone enchanted. Before this emeritus disappears I think that the example of Cardinal Amigo should serve for many bishops even after his retirement. Because the true joy of a bishop should come from God. And his apostolic activity should end only because of some ailment that really prevents him from being active.”

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  1. Eddie Finnegan says:

    “While not at all suggesting that here in Ireland we should be offering quite such a trenchant, no-holds-barred critique of our own bishops’ effective leadership . . . . . .”
    Well of course not, Pat Rogers, ach ní beag nod don eolach! Thanks for the excellent translation – nothing rough about it at all. This seems to be the ideal opening for all those diocesan priests who for half a dozen years or more have pondered contributing to this forum but could never think what they might write about. Come back Fr Joe McGuane of Cloyne, a man whose middle name was Trenchant – you need to blaze a Spanish-style trail through Ireland’s hierarchy of the meriti, the emeriti and the immeriti. If you start, the rest will follow – or not. They rarely did while you were with us in Youghal or round Ballycotton Bay.

  2. Maybe as a sign of mercy, we could let these retired bishops enjoy their sunset years rather than call them to judgment?

  3. Sean O Brien says:

    Not a good idea; in fact does it not breach your own guidelines. “slurs and personalised insults may be edited.”
    I thought all those “rate your this that and the other” sites were long since discredited. Please don’t follow up on this bad idea.

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