Cardinal Marcelo González

Reactionary Archbishop of Toledo

From his appointment as Archbishop of Toledo at the end of 1971, Marcelo González was Spain's senior Catholic prelate during 23 years that saw the Church's position transformed. He was uncomfortable witnessing the end of Francisco Franco's "national-Catholic" dictatorship and the emergence of a vibrant and increasingly secular democracy. For most Spanish progressives, within the Church and outside it, González was seen as a relic of an age of reactionary clericalism.

Marcelo González Martín, priest: born Villanubla, Spain 16 January 1918; ordained priest 1941; Bishop of Astorga 1961-67; Archbishop of Barcelona 1967-71; Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain 1971-95; named a cardinal 1973; died Fuentes de Nava, Spain 25 August 2004.

From his appointment as Archbishop of Toledo at the end of 1971, Marcelo González was Spain's senior Catholic prelate during 23 years that saw the Church's position transformed. He was uncomfortable witnessing the end of Francisco Franco's "national-Catholic" dictatorship and the emergence of a vibrant and increasingly secular democracy. For most Spanish progressives, within the Church and outside it, González was seen as a relic of an age of reactionary clericalism.

Marcelo González Martín, son of a small businessman, enrolled in the diocesan seminary of his native province, Valladolid, in 1935, at the age of 17, and graduated in theology from the Pontifical University of Comillas. He was ordained in 1941 and appointed to lecture in dogmatic theology at Valladolid, where he was made Canon of the Cathedral. His first bishopric was Astorga, in León, where he was consecrated in 1961.

His promotion as Coadjutor Archbishop of Barcelona came five years later, and he succeeded as Metropolitan Archbishop in 1967. The appointment displeased Catalonia's Catholic laity, who launched a campaign called " Volem bisbes catalans" ("we want Catalan bishops"), arguing that the imposition of "outsiders" distanced the hierarchy from its flock.

González served just under five years in Barcelona before becoming Archbishop of Toledo and thereby Primate of Spain, with elevation to the College of Cardinals in 1973. The see of Toledo covers some 20,000 square kilometres and González made a point of visiting every parish within it. A relentless evangelist, he made the promotion of priestly vocations and the training of lay catechists his top priorities, opening new seminaries and training centres.

Although González voiced concern for the disadvantaged, he headed a Spanish hierarchy that was intimately identified with the winners of the Civil War. When Franco died in November 1975, weeks after signing five death warrants in the face of papal pleas for clemency, it fell to González to deliver the funeral homily. He made oblique references to reconciliation, forgiveness and hope - but the main thrust was "the shining light of gratitude for the immense legacy" the old tyrant had left to "Christian civilisation, without which freedom is but a chimera".

González took part in the conclaves that elected Popes John Paul I and II in 1978. He remained a vigorous advocate of conservative morality, opposing Spain's democratic constitution because it neglected to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and opened the path to legalised divorce, birth control and general debauchery. In 1983, he made headlines by refusing Holy Communion to Franco's granddaughter, on the grounds that her recent divorce made her an adulteress.

He retired in 1995 to his mother's home village of Fuentes Nava in Palencia.

Michael Mullan



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