Monday, June 28, 2010

In Memoriam: José María Díez-Alegría, undocumented Jesuit

by Juan G. Bedoya (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El País
6/26/2010

José María Díez-Alegría, one of the great Spanish theologians, died yesterday [June 25, 2010]. He was going to turn 99 in October. He was an unrepentant Jesuit, obliged by the Vatican inquisitors to leave the order of Ignatius of Loyola because he accepted neither silencing nor censure. In spite of everything, he never stopped living in (and with) the Society of Jesus. "I'm an undocumented Jesuit," he said ironically.

Born in the branch of the Bank of Spain in Gijon, of which his father was director, Alegría (everyone called the theologian Díez-Alegría "Alegría") soon moved to the side of the miners. They once asked him how a banker could be Catholic, and Diez-Alegria answered with this Brechtian story. A banker came to him for confession and said: "Look, Father, I'm a banker." Alegría replied: "We're starting off badly!".

Díez-Alegría was a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome when, in 1972, he published the book Yo creo en la esperanza ["I believe in hope"] without the obligatory prior censorship, which in a few weeks went around the world. It was the postconciliar period, although clouds loomed over the spring of the Church. Alegría had asked permission to publish his book. Not applicable, they told him. He made a decision that would change his life. The book appeared under Desclée de Brouwer publishers in Bilbao. It sold 200,000 copies in many languages. His rise to fame was swift. Fifteen days later, a newspaper in Rome, Il Messaggero, and the largest U.S. one, The New York Times, thundered: "The best seller by a Spanish Jesuit acclaims Marx and attacks Rome."
Out of the cloister of the Society of Jesus, he returned to Madrid and lived in a shack in Pozo del Tio Raimundo, the neighborhood where another Jesuit, Father Llanos, former Falange chaplain and former friend of the dictator Franco, had been practicing liberation theology since 1955. Alegría, whose sense of humor and gospel patience had no limits, had this business card printed: "José María Díez-Alegría. Doctor of Philosophy. Doctor of Law. Master of Theology. Former Professor of Social Sciences at the Gregorian University. Retired honorably from a bloodless war. Calle Martos, 15. Pozo del Tio Raimundo."

He died in the Jesuit residence of Alcalá de Henares. Disciples, friends and admirers often made pilgrimages there to enjoy his conversation -- wise, sly, without mincing words, of incomparable beauty. A few months ago he began to waste away slowly. Word spread: "Alegría is fading." He passed away at dawn on Friday.

Alegría had admirers even among the hierarchy of Catholicism because he was an irreducible Christian, despite his impertinence with power. In that, he was like Jesus, the founder of Christianity, who was crucified for speaking His mind. In a world of comfortable clerics, who barely use the name of Christ because they prefer the tender but peaceful and mellifluous figures of Mary, or of the popes luxuriously installed in Vatican sovereignty, Díez-Alegría counseled humility, going back to Christ, and less gullibility. "The gospels should be quoted more and the Pope less," he said. In his last conversation with El País, he proclaimed that marriage of priests would be allowed in about 20 or 30 years, and, somewhat later, the priesthood of women. When he returned from Rome, to stay in El Pozo, "a swarm of reporters looked for him around Madrid, as if he were a famous movie actor," recalls Pedro Miguel Lamet, also a wise and rebellious Jesuit, and his biographer (Díez-Alegría. Un jesuita sin papeles. Editorial Temas de Hoy. 2005).

The hierarchy has endured Alegría's fame with wonder and panic. For example, May 28, 1977. That day, there was a large photograph on the front page of El País of the Jesuit Llanos waving his fist in front of 60,000 people gathered at the Vallecas soccer field (Madrid). "The communist meeting yesterday had two exceptional players, both within the logic of the history of the Spanish Church and outside the program: the Jesuits Diez-Alegria and Llanos. Father Llanos -- in the photo -- salutes, fist raised, his hometown of El Pozo. Somehow it comes to symbolize the historic commitment of a certain Church that has gone from National Catholicism to a greeting identified with Marxism," read the caption.

Díez-Alegría was neither Marxist, nor anti-Marxist. In the book Rebajas teológicas de otoño, he wrote a chapter entitled "Recuerdos a Marx de parte de Jesús" ["Jesus' Regards to Marx"] in which he had had a dream in which Jesus appeared and told him: "Hey, and that Karl Marx, the one who my current disciples talk about, scandalized, what do you say about him?" Alegría recited the texts of Marx to Him and Jesus told him: "Look, if you see Karl Marx, give him my regards and tell him that he is not far from the kingdom of God."

At age 90, Díez-Alegría published the second part of his famous book, this time with the title Yo todavía creo en la esperanza ["I Still Believe in Hope"], but in between there have been many other magnificent works such as Actitudes cristianas ante los problemas sociales ["Christian Attitudes Towards Social Issues" - 1967], Cristianismo y revolución ["Christianity and Revolution" - 1968], Teología en broma y en serio ["Theology in Jest and in Earnest" - 1977], ¿Se puede ser cristiano en esta Iglesia? ["Can One Be Christian in this Church?" - 1987], Cristianismo y propiedad privada ["Christianity and Private Property" - 1988], and Tomarse en serio a Dios, reírse de uno mismo [Take God Seriously, Laugh at Yourself - 2005].

In spite of the earlier punishment for Yo creo en la esperanza, Díez-Alegría never again had problems with the inquisitors. It's because he was very knowledgeable about the Bible. There was always a Church Father who had said before what he was arguing.

Neither did Llanos or Alegría have problems with the harsh national Catholic Franco dictatorship, that was forced, on the other hand, to open a prison only for priests in Zamora. The explanation was the origin of the two protagonists. Llanos was the son of a general, and Díez-Alegría, a banker of Gijon, as well as brother of the lieutenant-general Luis Díez-Alegría, Francos' Chief of the Army and former director general of the Guardia Civil, and Manuel, a former Chief of the Army High Command. Once, General Luis committed a traffic violation and the officer who was taking notes for the fine, on seeing his name, asked if he was related to "the famous theologian Diez-Alegria."

This is one of the stories Díez-Alegría told, with theological delight, to harmonize the Catholic faith with his radical liberation theology:

A catechist in Andalusia met a very poor young woman, married with children, who had gone to live with an old man.

- Woman, you have to go back, you can't stay with the old man.

- Of course, sir. But the old man will die soon, and I'm going to have a very decked out house, I will bring my husband and my children, and the problem is solved.

- But, woman, that's against God's law.

The woman replied with conviction: "No, sir, I don't have any problem with the Lord. I say to the Lord: 'Lord, You forgive me and I forgive You' ['for making me so poor', Alegría added], and we are at peace."

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