Before moving on to the translation of this interview, let us first be clear that contrary to what many in the media have concluded, Fr. Arregi is only leaving the Franciscans. He has not requested to be laicized, nor has he been suspended or excommunicated. Discussing his future in a separate interview with Deia.com, Arregi stated: "To earn a living, I will continue giving classes at Deusto. Yes, from now on I can't teach theology because the bishops have withdrawn my missio canonica, although they haven't done so officially in writing. Moreover, leaving the Franciscan order includes loss of the license to teach theology. I will teach other subjects. Apart from that, I want to continue being an active member of the Christian community of Gipuzkoa. I want to continue finding new ways to embody the gospel and Christianity in this society."
by Jorge Napal (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Noticias de Gipuzkoa
Donostia. Overwhelmed by the impact his words are having, Joxe Arregi (Azpeitia, 1952), does not diminish one iota the accusations made against the bishop of Donostia, Jose Ignacio Munilla, convinced that "a dark plot" is hiding behind him that has led to his abandonment of the religious order. "There is no doubt that during his time as pastor in Zumarraga he sent records and reports to Rome about priests in his diocese. It is undeniable that he intervened, for example, in the Pagola case" says Arregi, who held four personal conversations with the bishop himself, meetings that only demonstrated the chasm between them when it came time to live the faith.
Are you sleeping more peacefully these days?
On the one hand I feel a liberating effect, though these days are a little overwhelming because I get calls at all hours, and there is also pressure from the media. I want to spend these first few days devoted to my business.
You're not used to appearing a lot in public like this...
No, fortunately (he smiles).
In any case, you feel more free?
Yes, to the extent that I can make any statement because I don't belong to the Franciscan community. In addition, I feel more free with respect to the diocesan church institution.
Would you have remained in the order "facing down" if it hadn't created additional problems for your Franciscan friends?
Of course, if the Franciscan province of the Basque Country would have had more room to move freely relative to the bishop, I would not have had trouble following. Moreover, I would have wished to continue.
In other words, your brothers have had to bow to the directives of the bishop?
Yes, they have had no choice but to do so. I think they even intended to make a certain protest gesture, demanding that the action against me be taken by the bishop himself and that they not be made to take it, but that couldn't go anywhere.
The diocese said this week, after hearing of your intention to leave the order, that they have nothing to say. They referred the case to your superiors ...
I don't think that the Franciscan superiors have much to say since, although I haven't signed the papers yet, I'm no longer part of the order. They're not in charge of me now.
Have you had the opportunity to speak directly with Munilla in recent months?
We have spoken on four occasions since February. Once at Arantzazu and the other three times at the Chancery of San Sebastián. He wanted to, and I wanted to as well. We agreed to hold talks on all sorts of theological, ecclesial and moral subjects. The problem is that the talks did not develop as desired, and we gave them up.
It wasn't possible to reach an understanding?
The issue was not that we have different ways of thinking. The issue is that we don't have the same basic criteria on which to continue talking. If for him the last word and the only criterion is the literal wording of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, one cannot continue to talk. For me, it [the Catechism] is a cultural and historical way to express the Christian faith, but it is not the Christian faith per se. Faith or interpretation of faith? We always clashed on that point, it was the same whether we were talking about Christological dogma or abortion. Then we both saw that we could not get anywhere, and from then on he concluded that I was outside of the Catholic faith. That is why he demanded that the ban be imposed on me so that I could not preach or teach.
What would you say to him now if he were in front of you?
I would say to him: José Ignacio (I always used the familiar "tu" with him), we have different positions but I am asking for a bit of room in the Church, also for my error, in case I'm wrong.
Your Church and Bishop Munilla's are not in communion?
(He smiles). It seems normal, and even desirable to me, that there be dissent. That there is space for differences is an indicator of institutional health. Even that contradictions exist, but always from a mutual recognition.
A recognition that has not existed?
No. One sector cannot hold and monopolize power, as is the case. The official sector represented by Bishop Munilla is an instrument of another church project existing today in the Catholic Church, strong in Spain. A sector that holds all the levers of power, in which the margins of tolerance for dissent are narrow, if not non-existent. In the Church, there should be a greater margin of tolerance than in any political group, and here the opposite occurs.
Within this narrow margin to maneuver, you have swum against the tide. Why have become a rebel?
The term "rebel" is not used in Church circles, but in a way, yes. I don't view obedience as submission and compliance with wishes and orders that come from above without any further explanation, but as a search for what seems best to us. That is the will of God. It requires a critical attitude, and we need spaces where one can freely express one's position.
In your disagreement with Bishop Munilla there have been many gray areas in the past few months. Who's not telling the truth?
(He smiles). On June 17, I wrote a letter saying that I would not shut up. And I did it to expose Munilla's actions, [his] demanding that my superior take measures to silence me. From that moment, I could not teach, preach, or write. It was then that I broke the yearlong vow of silence that I had made at the request of Bishop Uriarte. I broke the silence, since the conditions justifying it no longer existed, to complain that the bishop had even proposed that I be sent to America.
But there are brothers of yours in the order who are suspicious of the supposed exile, and say they are some words taken out of context ...
I never said there was a direct order from the bishop. I have never spoken of exile. What the bishop did say, and I can vouch for that, is that he proposed and suggested that I be sent to America to work with the poor. Those are the exact words. The diocese said later that my letter contained serious misrepresentations, but it certainly told me I was "dirty water that contaminated everything."
You accused the bishop of hiding a folder on his computer with the name "Mafia", which contained shady "Church maneuvers" and files on some of your fellow clergy. Do you have a way to prove this?
It was a widespread rumor in the diocese, and I said nothing new that many priests, religious and laity of the diocese didn't know. When he was pastor of Zumarraga, Munilla himself acknowledged that there was a folder with the name "Mafia". He acknowledged as much to me.
Yes, sure. He said he had a folder named "Mafia", but confessed that it had no relevance whatsoever, that it was just an address book of people with whom he went to dinner. Later he gave other versions ... In any case, beyond the content, there is no doubt that during his time at Zumarraga he sent records and complaints to Rome about priests in his diocese. The plot in which he intervened is undeniable, for example, in the Pagola case.
To what extent was Munilla able to force the withdrawal of the book by theologian José Antonio Pagola about Jesus?
To the extent that he denounced the publication and took responsibility for broadcasting that denunciation. Munilla's appointment is the direct result of that shady plot.
What kind of plot?
Let's call it a premeditated plan or design that comes from long ago. The plan is to plant a line in the leadership of the Basque dioceses that is completely different from the one in force since the Second Vatican Council. It is a remodeling design to change the pastoral and ecclesiastical lines of the Basque dioceses, a change that comes from the time of Angel Suquía, but that experienced a new impetus since Rouco Varela became president of the Spanish Bishops' Conference ...
And Munilla comes within that context.
Throughout the process there have been speeches that have never been clarified. A few months before he [Munilla] took over, Monsignor Uriarte told his priests that Munilla was not going to be his successor ... In this struggle between Uriarte and some contacts in Rome, Rouco, who had more influence, won. Here the bishops are not appointed by the Holy Spirit but through a series of strategies that have never been clarified.
Do you give a political interpretation to it all?
Without a doubt. With Munilla a new ecclesial and pastoral line was carried out, also with background policy approaches. The words Rouco said last summer are very well known. Uriarte pronounced a homily at Mass in tribute to the priests and religious killed by the Franco dictatorship. After this homily, Rouco said: "This will be Uriarte's last bunch of crap." He had recently stated that there would never again be a nationalist bishop in Basque country. It is not the most important, but there has been, without doubt, this political dimension.
What do you think of the appointment of Mario Iceta as Bishop of Bilbao?
He's the one who closes the circuit on Rouco's plan. Thus a whole line of pastoral action and church presence in this society is completed to make way for a restorationist Church model, ultraconservative and quite fundamentalist in its interpretation of the Bible and in its theological doctrine. Iceta is an easygoing person but one who, nonetheless, fits that same pattern.
Is the new course that the Basque Church is tracing in the image and likeness of Cardinal Rouco Varela?
Without a doubt. But it's not just him, some talk about the Toledo group, and it's not a coincidence that Munilla studied there, in the most fundamentalist center for theological studies in Spain.
What do you think about the decision the Vatican might have made to create a Basque church province, that would lump together the dioceses of Bilbao, Donostia and Vitoria?
It's a very old demand which had always been rejected because of responding to political interests. So now they want to say that the new bishops do much more for the ecclesiastical province, they are not nationalists as opposed to those who were. That is the dominant discourse, one more maneuver. In any case, if it's established, I will celebrate it.