Jose Maria Setien (Hernani, 1928)
Jose Maria Setien Alberro was born in Hernani on the 18th of March, 1928. His religious studies were carried out in the Seminary of Vitoria and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he graduated in Sacred Theology and achieved a doctorate in Canon Law.
He was ordained as priest on the 29th June, 1951. In October 1955, he was appointed as Professor of Moral Theology in the Seminary of Vitoria. As from 1960, he became Professor in the Pontifical University of Salamanca, both in the Faculty of Canon Law and the Faculty of Theology, where he was also appointed Dean.
During his stay in Vitoria, he carried out the task of Spiritual Director in the Seminary. He was also Rector in the College of El Salvador for late vocations, in Salamanca. Following that, he became Pastoral Vicar for the diocese of Santander, where he remained for a period of time.
On the 26th of September, 1972, Jose Maria Setien was appointed Titular Bishop of Zama Minor and Auxiliary bishop of San Sebastian. He was consecrated Bishop by Bishop Jacinto Argaya in the Buen Pastor Cathedral on the 28th of October of that same year.
From 1979 to 2000, Jose Mª Setien was Bishop of San Sebastian. In 2003, the Regional Council of Guipuzcoa awarded him the Gold Medal for his work carried out in favour of truth and human rights.
His works include the following: Un obispo vasco ante ETA (2007), Laicidad del Estado e Iglesia (2007), Bases éticas para la paz. Reflexiones actuales sobre la Pacem in terris (2004), Unidad de España y Juicio Ético(2004), Pueblo Vasco y Soberanía. Aproximación histórica y reflexión ética (2003), De la Ética y el Nacionalismo (2002) o Cartas a las comunidades contemplativas (1997).
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Our weekly magazine Euskonews & Media will reach its tenth anniversary in 2008. To mark this event, within a very extensive programme of activities, every month until December we will publish a special interview with an inportant figure in the recent history of our country. It is the best gift we can give the thousands of readers who read our magazine every week.
While Jose Maria Setien occupied his position as bishop, he was faced with all types of support, but also rejection. He was not simply one more neutral religious member or intellectual. At present, Jose Maria Setien is still considered as an avant-garde landmark of the Basque Church.
When you began to study at the Seminary did you imagine that you would become one of the key bishops in the history of the Basque Church? Or at least, one of the most quoted, along with Añoveros and Mateo Mujika...
In the first place, I never imagined I would be bishop and, obviously, if I couldn’t imagine myself being bishop, I couldn’t imagine I would be a quote, “famous” bishop in the sense we understand. One can be famous for the good or the bad. Well, then. From that point of view, I hadn’t though of such a thing, and in the atmosphere of the Seminary, I don’t know if anybody thought that I could become bishop. For us in that era, a bishop was a person who... I don’t know, was very special, completely far-off from what we could be or could aspire to be. Therefore, I can say that while I was at the Seminary it never dawned on me that I would become bishop.
When I went to the Seminary in Vitoria, my secondary school marks were pretty... let’s say, excellent, or not average. I fit in well with the studies at the Seminary and so it wasn’t difficult for me to attain high grades. Which, looking towards the future, made me think, also with the words of some priest who was a good friend of mine, in the possibility of being a teacher at the Seminary or some other centre. Predictions were focused more on an educational type of activity, in the different levels in which they developed later because as a student, I never thought that I would go to Salamanca to be a professor at the Pontifical University.
You coincided with other teachers at the Seminary of Vitoria who were later significant in the Basque Church. I am referring to José María Cirarda, Luis Maria Larrea and Ángel Sukia. If you don’t mind, what is your opinion of each of them?
It’s a little risky to give an opinion. Above all, one must take into account that the responsibilities of each of those bishops was pretty different. Cirarda, the first you mentioned, was a teacher of mine. And I had a close relationship with him, both when he was a teacher and later when we became collaborators, more so partners, at work. And I saw Cirarda from the point of view of an era in which he had to manage how best he could, being the bishop of Santander and the papal administrator of Bilbao at the same time. And that was in the hard years of the ETA terrorist attacks. He was there, as the bishop of Santander, as the papal administrator of Bilbao, with the conflicts, conflicts that also arose later in relation with Añoveros, who you mentioned before. And of course, his reaction was completely different because his problems were different to Ángel Sukia’s, who was Bishop when we were still in the Franco years, and later President of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, if I’m not mistaken, to compare both is very difficult. What would Cirarda have done as President of the Episcopal Conference and what would Sukia have to have done as Apostolic Administrator of Bilbao? I don’t know that either. And concerning the third, Luis María Larrea, we already know he was a quite a different person from the other two from a political point of view. That is, the three are different, they are in very different situations and to pass judgement on the one or the other... and it is not about evading the question, which would be a mistake, since to compare two people one must see them in action under the same or similar situations. The rest are suppositions.
The three bishops mentioned, along with Jose Maria Setien, are four aces, which at a certain moment were at the Seminary of Vitoria-Gasteiz and which I believe increased the Seminary’s level to the highest in Spain in that era.
To a certain point, yes. But I want to say that the Seminary of Vitoria —in which Cirarda, Setién, Larrea and Sukia were there as teachers, Sukia and Larrea were later vice-chancellors, and all appointed as bishops later...— was not born from nothing. There is no doubt that there were people of great stature there, and to name a couple I can mention Mr. José Miguel de Barandiaran and Mr. Manuel Lekuona. They had great intellectual interest. And there was another person, Mr. José Zunzunegi, Professor of Church History and the librarian at the Seminary of Vitoria, who elevated the academic level considerably at the Seminary with sights to create a Faculty of Theology. He promoted all this in his position as Prefect of Studies at the Seminary. That is why we entered into something that had a previous dynamic. We become part of a movement that already existed. The Seminary library, which was one of the most important of the Spanish Seminaries, if not the most important, was not built overnight. I myself went to the Seminary of Vitoria as a professor because Mr. José Zunzunegi thought that I could be professor at the Faculty that would be created and that indeed was created. All that was an influence on my going to study in Rome.
Yes, Antonio Pildain had also been a professor. There was evidently ‘humus’ that made this all possible at the Seminary.
And, above all, I would stress the importance given to studies, obviously at the general education level in Philosophy and Theology courses. Great care was also taken in spiritual education.
Was it a pity that the Vitoria Diocese split...
Two things must be recognized there: one would be the motives and, another, the real problem. There is no doubt that the division of the Vitoria Diocese had some clear political connotations. And that is not an assumption; it has a very clear foundation. Yes, really, before the Dioceses of Vitoria, San Sebastián and Bilbao, there was a single Diocese of Vitoria and all were united, there must be a reason why they were united. In fact, they were a territorial district that had one unit. When the division took place, not only was a division made that affected what the Diocese of Vitoria was, but two more were born from this division, so there were three dioceses that incorporated different ecclesiastical provinces. Something that is not consistent with the previous unit.
The ecclesiastical province is a group of diocese under the guidance of the metropolitan archbishop who, somehow, is at the head of those dioceses. The ecclesiastical province must consider common problems. In this sense, it is evident that the Diocese of Vitoria, along with the new Dioceses of San Sebastián and Bilbao, had evident unit demands. So, if a new ecclesiastical province had to be made, the normal thing would have been that it would maintain these three dioceses together. And more so, if the archdiocese had to be Pamplona. But this depended on, after the division, only San Sebastián, that way it would remain separate from Vitoria and Bilbao. This means that there was a clear political intent in the division.
But, on the other hand, nobody could deny that the diocese of Vitoria, as it existed then, was too big to be under pastoral care, dependant on a single bishop. It must not be forgotten what Bilbao was, what San Sebastián was and what Álava was. Think that the bishop of Álava could be the only bishop of the three... The division was seen as objectively necessary and there is no doubt that the fact that the dioceses of Bilbao and San Sebastián were two segregated dioceses of the old Diocese of Vitoria, it was a clear objective good. That is why I differentiate between what that objective good of the division and the intent that was evident in the “separation” of these dioceses in what should have belonged to different ecclesiastical provinces. Of course, it is also true that that intent did not remain there. Which lead to the separation of the three dioceses, it is evident in the manner of interpretation, from the political point of view, that the actions of each of these dioceses and the joint action had to be done.
Before we spoke about that ‘humus’ and evidently there was prime material at the Seminary of Vitoria. One must look at the situation the Seminaries were in at that time. In the fifties, there were 800-900 students at the Seminary of Vitoria, with strong teaching staff and students. A group was formed with Abaitua, Alberdi and Setién, that began to conduct Social Doctrine, of great interest at that time and that after almost fifty years continues alive.
Being in agreement, I’m going to say the same thing as before and say that the group did not come out of nothing. The ‘humus’ you refer to had very specific personal references and is a person who is tied in deeply with Mondragón, the cooperativism movement and, above all, social philosophy studies,...
Mr. Gregorio Rodríguez de Yurre...
Right, right, Gregorio. Rodríguez de Yurre had, at least in me, great influence. In his social philosophy course, which we attended in third philosophy course, which is to say the eighth of the twelve years which he gave, he spoke to us about society, of social systems, of the derivations of liberalism, of the derivations of totalitarianism, of German totalitarianism, along with fascism and in connection with that was the Franco regime, which was in force.
So there was the seed and also some very important fundamental guidance. On the other hand, Ricardo Alberdi came to the Seminary of Vitoria, but in atmospheres that were more social, labour union, labour movement, economic ethics, etc. And Carlos Abaitua was in Vitoria, whose vocation for the creation of “works” of a social sort was evident. The three of us spoke often then, although not with the precision that that type of relationship would progressively have, and which especially became evident —which made us known— in that comment made in the first part of the Encyclical Mater et Magistra, of Pope John XXIII on the socio-economic order. We write it Setién, Abaitua and Alberdi or, if you like, Abaitua, Alberdi and Setién, and I say this order remembering the outline of the book. That indeed made the three of us work together, but taking into account that Ricardo, when he came out of the Seminary, usually in Madrid and San Sebastián, and Carlos Abaitua was in Vitoria, but not dedicated to activities that were of a doctrinal nature, but to the Social Secretary, the worker residents, etc., and I was in the Seminary, which I exited to give talks and conferences. Later, not much later, from 1961-62, I worked at the Pontifical University of Salamanca. There was a coincidence, but not in the sense that it could be said, we made a close-knit group.
I meant that the doctrine is valid today...
Not only is it valid, but that it’s up-to-date and I want to say, and it’s not to rectify, that not only is it a true doctrine but that in addition, it is current, not only in relation with the political problem of violence but also in relation with socio-economic problems. It is current and I believe that the problem will not be simpler in the future. I would have liked for the three of us to now have the youth we had then; to be together, each with his own experience, to try to confront the subject of globalization, which is certainly a socio-cultural phenomenon, but which also has evident economic dimensions and, therefore fundamentally ethical.
We have touched on the subject of those first publications and being a modest follower of Jose Maria Setien who has read some of his works... his bibliography excites me, that is his works, he has known how to combine the basic concepts of Christianity with the respect for people. It’s something I must highlight in your presence. I have always found it excellent...
And that makes me very happy [Laugh]. That makes me happy because I think it is an honest interpretation of Jose Maria Setien. What I think is that the Church’s Social Doctrine has something particularly valid despite all the progressive evolution that the doctrine has fundamentally had since León XIII. Because there was also a previous Social Doctrine of the Church, but not in such a synthesized manner like the Rerum Novarum, a doctrine that is supported on the defence of the human person. In its support of the human person affirmation, expressed in terms of the “centrality” of that person, as the foundation of creating social order. A social order which, in service of that person, that the Vatican Council II stated in its statement, in the Const. Gaudium et Spes which said that man is the only reality that has been created and loved by God, just as he is. This means that social realities as a whole, whether they are interpersonal relationships or relationships with nature, are in function of that person who has self-value and in such a manner that he cannot be used as an instrument to the service of others. And that, automatically, gives consistency to a philosophical-political system that focuses on the person.
I believe that this, the precedence to write the Social Doctrine, given to the person, is what the United Nations’ declaration, on Human Rights, of 1948 is also based on. That Declaration was previous to the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, by John XXIII, where he conducts a study on peace, through human rights that are founded on human dignity. In that sense it must also be said that the thinking of the Church’s Social Doctrine was not something that emerged spontaneously from the very church, but that before John XXIII wrote the encyclical to peace there was also that other declaration that was adopted by John XXIII’s same doctrine in his encyclical. So, I understand that that has its consistency.
Human Rights, obviously, are above all ideology... political, and also religious.
Well. What happens is that the term ideology is a little ambiguous, because in fact there are those that sustain that the Social Doctrine of the Church is also, in some manner ideological, but however, not faith. Ideology assumes affirmations, more or less rational, fundamental, from which an attempt to give a coherent explanation is made with that ideology, to the socio-political events. And not only that, but they must serve to support the influence that individual work and the group of people must have on those events, so that the objectives set by that ideology may be reached. In that sense, I don’t have a problem in recognizing that the Social Doctrine of the Church really has some or much of the ideology. But, it would be another thing to confuse the Social Doctrine of the Church with the Church’s faith. Faith can be the foundation of the base of a later, let’s say ideological, Social Doctrine development. And if need be, it could also be said that the dependence on the doctrine written from a truth, which would be its ideological foundation, faith, would be the affirmation of the person’s dignity above all. Therefore, it would be said that what is over and above is the faith that asserts the dignity of the human person, and not the ideology that comes from that assertion. But, like I say, maybe to understand this approach well, it would have to be said, which is not easily accepted, that faith is an option but not an ideology. Faith cannot be confused with a set of doctrinal affirmations or principles that make up a type of global framework where everything must be placed: human progress, individuality of the person, social relationships... Not all that complexity befitting of ideology can be found in faith... Fortunately.
The truth is that I find myself a little intimidated talking in these terms in front of a Monsignor. But, as a Christian, I believe that faith is in a state of permanent crisis in a person. Is this so?
One thing is the crisis of faith and the other the crisis of the person in view of faith. They tell me that I’m complicated when using the adequate words to say things. I answer that when I speak with a person, what I intend is to be understood and if we use the same word, that each of us gives that word the same definition. Because if not we won’t understand each other.
Yes... that’s right...
In that sense, I prefer to be specific. Evidently, without a doubt, and this is a subject of great repercussion in everything that I have been able to say or do, faith cannot be separated from the person, as we said before, and the person cannot be separated from the social coexistence. Insofar as the collection of socio-political circumstances influences a person, that person has new difficulties, problems, emergencies, needs and possibilities. Then, the intent to apply that fundamental principle that faith asserts on the dignity of a person, that becomes apparent in the recognition of his human rights, he must consider the discernment or the crisis to see how all that is done in a society that is constantly changing.
To give an example and moving away from the subject of our reflection somewhat, we can talk about the concept of State. It is enough to see everything that comes with declaring if the Basque Country is a State, if it must be sovereign, if it has an absolute right... Well. All this, in the 17th century, when that concept of state was being worked out, had completely different connotations than they do today. Because if we begin to analyze things in depth, we are going to be able to say that these European States are not the States of North America and those States of North America are not those of the Confederation of States of Switzerland, and, they aren’t the State of the sovereignty that would define what State is either, and it begins to crumble. When we apply the concept, we apply it to Switzerland, we apply it to North America, we apply it to the European States and to those European States that being outside the European Union, govern themselves. And, nevertheless, there is a European Union that, to the extent in which it intended to give political content to that Union, defined in the manner of a Constitution, there are some, like the French —and the English of course, I don’t know what they would have said or what they said— that say that that political reality cannot be understood that way when speaking of the European Union. Otherwise, we would be making the European Union a State and its members would stop being States. The solution to this problem will be found later, removing all that talk about Constitution that can suggest a European Union as if it were a large State. But the problems of content are there, regardless of the words we use.
Let’s now talk about the crisis...
Does a crisis of faith exist?
Well of course. It is a crisis of faith that doesn’t only concern the manner of acting from the point of faith on temporary realities. A crisis of faith also exists insofar as the same understanding of those provisional realities can take us to a problem in the understanding of what faith is and the foundations of that faith. Therefore, that is another aspect of the crisis. It is not a crisis of what must be done in relation with social or political order, but that affects the position that a believer adopts before the new cultural coordinates in which he has the same understanding of faith because of scientific progress and other reasons that are also ideological. Comprehension of faith itself can be a question of crisis.
And is the crisis of faith related to the crisis of the Church?
Obviously, if it weren’t, the Church wouldn’t be a community of faith nor would faith be true faith. If we are saying that faith is in crisis can be in a more or less deep crisis with socio-cultural changes, and on the other hand, we say that the Church is a community of believers, those believers who believe that they are in crisis, this forces the Church to be in crisis as well. Because if not, the Church would be the community of the believers, it would be another thing that has nothing to do with faith. Which would be even worse.
Of course it would be worse...
But, could it happen?
In its entirety, I don’t believe so. Because I believe that a fundamental faithfulness will always exist in the Church. I’m not saying in what percentage, but a fundamental faithfulness in what it should be, which is a community of faith. I understand that the Church lives that crisis of faith internally. But what I don’t understand would be if the believers are in a crisis of faith, the Church is apart from that crisis of believers. That doesn’t make sense.
Seeing what the Basque Church’s current situation is, as an ordinary Christian and parishioner, I have the impression that we are in a real ‘logistic’ hole. We don’t have soldiers of the Church, our Churches are ‘full’ of elderly, youth do not come, the lecture given in Church isn’t updated either... The ecclesiastical hierarchy is in trouble, because you cannot take something from nothing. What is our Church’s short-term outlook?
In first place, I try to look at it in peace and with tranquillity, and the support is twofold. On the one hand, I believe in the gospel, on which faith rests. The promise of continuity in the reading of the gospel, which befits the Church; I believe it will be maintained. Better or worse, but it will be done. But on the other hand, looking back, we should as ourselves: Has it ever been any other way? We had the problem during the Church’s first centuries, until the Peace of Constantine. After, with Constantine, problems were not solved, others were considered: the problem with the relationship of the Church with the power that wants to be placed at the service of the Church’s interests. But later another very grave problem is considered, when that power goes against the Church. And there are the Middle Ages, full of problems and discussions between spiritual power and provisional power. In general, without going into anything more precise.
All this doesn’t only affect the Church’s organization. It also affects the contents of faith in the same manner. We must not forget the basic heresies of the 3rd and 4th centuries either. What I believe is that the problem is not correctly considered when the Church’s crisis is separated from the crisis of faith, which is more profound. We will not be able to solve the Crisis of the Church problem if we do not attempt to help overcome the crisis of faith of those of us that make up the church. For me, the problem of the Church’s adhesion is certainly serious, but I think that the lack of adhesion of faith problem is even worse which must support all of members of the Church.
Of course. Truly, when surveys are done on if there are many believers or not, despite the greater or lesser adhesion to the Church, the great problem of how a man from the 21st century can be a believer is being asked, taking into account the change in mentality that scientific progress, secularization, with all its expressions (secularization of society, secularization of politics, secularization of the fundamental problem of the existence of man,...) has produced. Those are the problems. There is an institution that must try to defend that Christian faith, that Catholic faith with all those weaknesses that that very institution can have. Yes. But we won’t solve the problem of the Church if we don’t make an effort to solve the problems of the believers. In these moments, the church must make great efforts to help believe, and not only help to believe in Jesus Christ, but to believe in God. But it is also true that an adequate presentation of Christ will help us have an idea of God that will make it easier for us to believe in him, not merely a stereotypical and lifeless idea of God, which is not easy to come to terms with from the ideas of a secular society. Supposing that that distinction is done well, what does the Church need to do? To assure the presentation of a gospel in which the image of God is more perceptible and assumable in this secular society. That is much more profound than all the institutional modifications and organizational changes that we could do.
The updating of the gospel, which in my opinion is a subject that must be dealt with, can be difficult with the Church’s current structure.
One thing is the Church’s structure, and the other is the people who represent the Church’s structure. When they tell me “What do you think with regards to the Church’s structure, why this and why the other...?” I say, “look, that Church that you’re describing is not the Church I knew when I was bishop of San Sebastián. The church permits diverse ways of acting, which makes this diversity possible or difficult in a different manner, making the effort to access faith easy or difficult. And, in that sense, we are not faced with a problem of structure. The problem is the people who represent those structures; some people will make it difficult the others easier. That is evident. But I think it’s wrong to think that a change in the Church’s structure, whatever line it follows, can solve Christians’ problem of faith. And if the approach is wrong, we can’t hope for much when trying to provide an adequate solution.
I would breathe a little easier thinking that the problem isn’t so much the structure but the people who represent them...
Sure, in my opinion, one must also take into account that not all believers are the same. A word that can enlighten some can shock others, and from this point of view, one must proceed cautiously when presenting the Christian faith’s fundamental contents and ideas so as not to shock people. Because on the other hand, it could be said, “What we’ve said up to know is not true?” “Well yes, it’s true. But not as you would understand it.” Then, “what truth is left?” “Well something that is said in another manner, and should be tried to be understood.” And all that isn’t a direct problem of if there are leaders or not. Because what is important in the Church are not the leaders but the common people, the Christians.
That’s the problem. And to try to solve it with armies of priests who try converting or helping Christians to continue being believers without an effort to understand the message that is going to be transmitted to those people would be twisted, and finally, instead of having a Church for everyone we would have sects that would organize themselves better or worse.
Do you currently see the common person capable of this update, this ‘renewal’ of the gospel?
I believe so. But one can’t think that if someone had to spend twelve years in the Seminary to become a good priest, and in addition, had to go to university to become the professor of those who one day will become priests, that now, by simply having some written help and previous training, that the Christian people can be converted into an educator of faith in the gospel, it doesn’t make much sense. It’s difficult. And that is why the problem lies in educating those people, the catechist “soldiers” in such a manner so that they may be faithful to the gospel message. And that is costly. Why are we going to deny it? That is why the problem cannot be reduced to if there are priests or not, it’s a problem of comprehending and communicating a credible gospel in our day.
I have always liked the image of Christ’s last act, surrounded by the apostles, having supper around a table. It has always seemed to me that the table, like this one here, where we look at each other in the eye, where we talk and see each other face to face, is one of the best ways to resolve crises and problems. Speaking from my point of view as a practicing Catholic and when I approach the Eucharist, I feel like I’m being obligated, that I can’t consider my own problems, my own doubts. I would rather sit at a table...
You are completely right. If the table is a reference to a dialogue of believers, it must have its suitable importance. But if that table makes reference to a meeting of “celebrants”, it must be something different. I believe the church has sufficient places, even for a climate of religious communication and meetings open to dialogue, in which the only requirement would be the will to be faithful to the gospel. And that is why someone can talk and express their different opinions, etc., as long as there is a basic mutual reception. But that communication of preoccupations, etc., cannot ignore that the Church mustn’t reduce itself to be a mere collection of small groups.
One of the things that I couldn’t achieve in my 28 years as bishop of San Sebastián was to make the cathedral the meeting place that represented all the groups that wanted to be Christian, showing that by celebrating together we participate in the Church as a whole. That complete group cannot be 15 people, nor can it be 100. A diocese like Gipuzkoa’s which is not very big but has close to 700,000 inhabitants also needs spaces and celebrations that signify membership, profession of common faith, which is carried out through the Eucharist. What I mean is that there has to be one or the other. If the only way to meet with the Church is its 6 o’clock mass or it’s mass at half past 7 that in truth would be a way one way to meet. But people with worries also have the possibility to meet around a table, with or without a celebration to consider the problem of their faith. As long as the problem searches for a solution, that meeting of the Eucharist at the Cathedral or the meeting of the Eucharist in a village that can be the smallest neighbourhood in Ataun... that meeting would also be a encounter with the Church.
In San Gregorio...?
No, there is even one smaller yet. I believe it’s Aia. Anyway, I want to say that those gathering are also useful and significant although different. I’m not trying to be condescending because that doesn’t fix anything. But my intention is not to ignore the different types of meetings in which a person can feel like a member of the Church. Since there is no doubt that there are many Church activities, such as the diverse activities of Caritas, the Social Secretary, youth groups, prayer groups..., there are many different ways of meeting within the Church. They are activities, as well others, in which the laypeople must be qualified. Their aim is to aid the presbyters or even substitute them.
I am in favour of not detracting or limiting the significance of being a member of the Church. Now, returning to the subject of before, one of the greatest signs of the Church’s poverty, as I said many times, is not having more people who want to dedicate their life and time to studying, all these practical and doctrinal problems are the aim of the study and what theologians must delve deeper into, like those who made the Vatican Council II possible. Many people now say “And why doesn’t the Church convene a Vatican Council III?” My answer is “What for?” “To change the structures?”, If it weren’t for that, it would also be to see how the gospel message can make a greater presence in the world, that Council would have its reason to exist. But not only bishops would need to attend. Because the Council is made up by bishops but also the theologians who accompany the bishops. But I ask, “Where are those theologians?” In that sense, I understand that the problem with the Church is not only a question of the laypeople or clergy but also a problem of delving deeper into faith in the sense that believing in the moment in which we live can have.
Jose Maria, I don’t know if you dream of a Church model that you would like to have in 2008...
Being Bishop I dreamed of what the San Sebastián
diocese could be. And know, if I daydream of what I want it to be, it would
be a church that gathers all those ideas we have been planning. I would like
it to be a Church in which an attempt to understand what the true nature of
a Church is, which is more that just structure, a Church that is more than
the Christians of goodwill who have baptized their children and have a greater
or lesser presence in the celebrations.
That it is a Church in which the image of Christ, who washed the apostles’ feet at the last supper, is a true expression. I washed feet at the Cathedral every Maundy Thursday, repeating Christ’s gesture. But my gesture was very different from the content that Christ’s words had.
I am convinced that the church must love people in a manner that is visible. The church must not be indifferent to economic, cultural, political and social problems of people. And it must send aid workers to poor countries. All this must be done but with a conscious connection that must be continuously renewed, which is what some call the mystic dimension of faith, the vertical dimension that has no option but to involve faith.
The problem exists in effectively seeing how people can be committed, that they do it for a reason that does not come from a purely horizontal demand, including those commitments to create a more humane coexistence, in accordance with human rights, more fraternal. What I mean is a person’s humanitarian affirmation of dignity, it must also have a vertical dimension that makes those horizontal relationships of love, service have a reason, content and vocation, the vocation of transcendence. That is, uniting the worldly with the transcendental. If one only observes that Setién only worries about political things and doesn’t consider the things he says about faith, when he proclaims, “faith demands that enemies also be loved”, which is not Setién’s truth. If he answers, “enemies are those that harm us” that is why we don’t accept what he says, that does nothing but distort the gospel. The problem is discovering what the complete Christian existence that worries about the temporary without forgetting God. And by worrying about the temporary, don’t think that the all-embracing reality of things ends there, in its transient nature, but it must make sense, a purpose, an opening to the short-term.
I read the definition of faith somewhere as an effective poetic stance. I believe it keeps a little with that verticalism which is inconceivable, like poetry it irradiates, impossible to grasp...
I am not particularly fond of poetry. [Laugh]. What I mean is I don’t understand what it means. I do understand what an efficient utopia can be, what the ambition to possibly create a utopia can be. There is another expression that I think is much richer, which means acting without sacrificing the fundamental dimension which must be the sense of human life.
I ask myself many times, what is the reason why a person must always be valued as the measurement of all things? This is an old question. What should the point of reference be to really know if the right or wrong thing is being done? That reference that we place on the person, where does it gain its strength? I remember a conference I gave in a University summer course in San Sebastián on human values. I don’t know if they liked it or not but I stated, “Man has a genuine value because he depends on another reality that is different than him, which is the fundamental value which we call God. If man doesn’t depend on God, it is more or less a perfect creature, but I don’t know why he needs to have the absolute value we want to assign him, if that absolute value must come from his pure relativity.
The problem exists in knowing if the person, because of his connection to something transcendent of himself, acquires a value that comes from that transcendent connection. And if that’s not it, where does it come from. That seems to be pure philosophy, but it’s not. In the end, if we loose sense of everything, the problems of man are divided. Which is typical of logistics. Man, what does he have? What does he need? Health? Money? Sure! And that is why we must have an Osakidetza, a consolidated economy, which is why it is necessary to have a Ministry in charge of all that. At this moment, there is a grave risk that man will foolishly destroy nature. Let’s create a Ministry of the Environment. That way we divide the sectors of life and we provide an answer to each, while being partial.
When all these partial sectors are brought together, to avoid man from becoming the sum of pieces, we jump to the totality of that person’s being. And we can ask ourselves: why are we working for the well-being of that person? All this doesn’t make sense. And the fact that “human knowledge” tells us that that asking for the sense doesn’t make sense... doesn’t solve the problem at all. I’m not asking these questions because of purely negative disposition. But I would prefer to say that it is a very important problem to which we can only provide a purely approximate answer. We would be in agreement. But let’s not loose sight of the question of man’s perspective. If we did I wouldn’t know the why, nor the what for or the function, I am human.
Although some say the opposite, we are part of a village. What village do you dream of?
What am I going to say? I dream of a Country that respects the fundamental affirmation which is made up of people and which we must make of it a reality in which all people, regardless of their beliefs, origin, language, culture, political opinions, can live, and all their human rights are respected.
So that can happen, something as fundamental as peace must be respected. This would be the first conclusion. And later, that it would be a Country where the realization of each person’s desire, with due respect for their dignity, attempting to construct the socio-political structures that are the result of the peaceful gathering and collaboration of all. I don’t have the right to conclude on how the Country must be organized, by virtue of my religious faith. What I can have are fundamental demands that must be respected so that that Country may be respectful of all. I will have to recognize the necessary liberty so that, within its historical context, it may have that fundamental structure of socio-political coexistence that, by having a common collective acceptance or at least the majority, says it can accept that way of living, and the Country accepts itself just how it is. I don’t think we have the right to impose how that village must be. That village must have the required conditions to decide, act and be what it wants be, as long as that decision agrees with the right of all.