Antonio Añoveros Ataún

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Antonio Añoveros Ataún
Born Antonio Añoveros Ataún
Pamplona, Spain
Died 1987
Bilbao, Spain
Nationality Spanish
Ethnicity Spanish
Occupation priest
Known for Roman-Catholic bishop
Religion Roman Catholicism

Antonio Añoveros Ataún (Pamplona, 1909 - Bilbao, 1987) was a Spanish Roman-Catholic priest, serving as a Carlist chaplain during the Civil War and as a bishop during most of Francoism.

Family and Youth[edit]

Antonio Añoveros' paternal family originated from the Madrid province. His grandfather, Guillermo Añoveros Ribas, settled in Navarre in mid-19th century due to his duties of Carabinero de la Hacienda Nacional, the Spanish border customs service. Antonio's father, Julio Añoveros Monasterio, directed Tabacalera de Navarra, the Navarrese section of the Spanish tobacco monopoly, and worked for the Pamplona city council as secretary of the Junta de Beneficiencia de Navarra. Since 1928 he was elected Teniente de Alcalde of the Pamplona Ayuntamiento and presided over its Comisión de Beneficencia; he was also recognized as author of pieces posted to local periodicals. Antonio's maternal family came from central Navarre; his mother, Claudia Ataun Sanz, originated from Irurozqui near Pamplona.

the Carlist standard

Upon insistence of his mother, whose profound religiosity influenced the children, Antonio was first educated in the prestigious Marist Brothers' college in Pamplona. Having obtained the bachillerato he moved to Aragon, commencing law studies at Universidad de Zaragoza. Facing the rising tide of militant republican and socialist secularisation he decided to quit the university and returned to his native city to enter the seminar. Ordained priest in 1933 and posted to the St. Nicolaus parish in Pamplona.

During the Spanish Civil War Añoveros volunteered to the Carlist militia, the Requetés. Unlike some other priests who used to command Carlist combat units (e.g. José Ulíbarri), Añoveros, though often present on the battlefield, limited himself to auxiliary roles, serving as a chaplain in field hospitals, relief centres and the machine-gun unit. He is known to have administered sacraments, including the Eucharist, also to Republican soldiers. He witnessed many dramatic moments of the war, e.g. execution of some 50 republican prisoners known as matanza de Valcaldera.

Ecclesiastical career[edit]

S. Maria church, Tafalla
the Cádiz cathedral

In 1941 Añoveros assumed the Santa Maria parish in the central Navarrese town of Tafalla, serving there until 1950. Transferred to Andalusia, where in Málaga he became canónigo de la catedral, rising also to rector of the local seminary. Working closely with the charismatic figure of the Málaga bishop Angel Herrera Oria, Añoveros grew to his right-hand and vicar-general of the diocese. In 1952, promoted by Herrera Oria (who also acted as his principal consecrator) Añoveros was nominated the Malaga Auxiliary Bishop; his titular see was Tabuda.

In 1954 Añoveros moved to Western Andalusia, nominated the Coadjutor Bishop of Cádiz and Ceuta. This time he remained influenced by the strong personality of the aging (76 years) titular bishop of the province, Tomás Gutiérrez Díez. Añoveros succeeded him in the Cádiz and Ceuta bishopric in 1964, remaining at the post until 1971. That year he was nominated the bishop of Bilbao. The procedure involved the tactics then employed by Vatican towards Spain, which dodged the Franco's right to choose a candidate from the list of three presented by the Holy See by short listing only one name. Añoveros served in Bilbao actively until 1978, when he resigned due to his age and became bishop emeritus of the diocese. Despite occasional rumors (especially in the early 1970s), he has not been appointed cardinal.

Second Vatican Council[edit]

Prior to Vaticanum II the Spanish preliminary input was rather modest. On the central theme of the Church itself it was reduced to a petition, fathered by Añoveros jointly with the Jaca bishop Ángel Hidalgo Ibáñez, that the doctrine of Cuerpo Místico deserves more elaboration. During the Council itself he participated in all 4 sessions from 1962 to 1965. Though Spanish bishops as a group constituted one of the most conservative blocs of the assembled hierarchy, Añoveros emerged in the middle, siding neither with the reformist nor with the conservative wing. His contribution to Vaticanum II was moderate; though counted among the 3,000 Council Fathers, he neither chaired any section nor was particularly active on any specific topic. However, he took part in a number of debates.

Vaticanum II at work

The liturgical reform focused on enhanced participation of the lay in the mass. Añoveros was in the majority favoring introduction of the vernacular, resulting in the sixth amendment to the constitution on liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963); it allowed a freedom of action while at the same time making provision for an increased use of modern languages in the liturgy. When discussing the role of deacons, priests and bishops in church modus operandi and the decision making process, finally summarized in Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen gentium, 1964), Añoveros spoke in favor of the priesthood being treated more thoroughly in the schema; he effectively backed the supporters of permanent deaconry and collegiality of bishops. He also voiced strongly in favor of setting regional seminars. During the work on Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions (Nostra aetate, 1965) he emerged as a moderate, referring specifically to the Muslims as profoundly religious and very sensitive to charity, so that dialogue with them is easy and must be carried on. We must respectfully recognize their spiritual and moral values. All missionary endeavor must show forth charity and kindness.

Contributing to Declaration on Religious Freedom, (Dignitatis Humanae, 1965), and especially during the discussion on the so-called 4 SC (textus reemendatus), Añoveros spoke against the version prepared by the Council for Promoting Christian Unity and joined the 70-something group of bishops who formed part of the opposition nucleus. Though far from the fundamental rejection advocated by Marcel Lefebvre (or even critique from some fellow Spaniards like Abilio del Campo), Añoveros called for setting limits of religious liberty. He argued that the state has the right to limit religious freedom to safeguard three values: a political good, that is the public peace: a moral good, that is the defense of public morality; and a civil good, that is the harmony of citizens in the exercise of their legitimate rights. He suggested further elaboration of the text before a new sub-commission, and called for a change in the title, suggesting Civil Liberty in Religious Matters instead.

Social and Political Issues[edit]

Spanish peasants, 1950s

Though during the Civil War Añoveros served with the ultraconservative Requeté units, later on he demonstrated no particular penchant for Carlism, possibly save social solidarity and support for regional identity. From the onset of his service Añoveros focused on social issues, concerned with the family and the poor. Initially his activities revolved around charity and mutual help, as he stimulated numerous initiatives like Caritas or Movimiento de Acción Católica. Over time, Añoveros grew supportive of Catholic forms of workers self-organization, backing Hermandad Obrera de Acción Católica (HOAC) and later Juventud Obrera Cristiana de España (JOC). He became renowned for declining a generous grant for renovation of the destitute Cádiz Cathedral, claiming that in the city with so many social needs it would have been immoral. Though occasionally delivering elaborate sermons, he is reported to have respected popular religiosity and seemed determined to stay in touch with the religious masses.

Franco, 1936

Gradually his public statements (especially the pastoral letters) were assuming more militant tone, generating irritation of the regime and anxiety among the privileged. When lamenting the plight of agricultural workers in Andalusia he lambasted lack of social conscience by the upper strata, e.g. criticizing many absentee owners of large estates, who were held partially responsible for some of the abject conditions in which the lease-holding peasants lived. He was especially critical of a lack of dialogue between the agricultural workers and their employers, with many campesinos abandoning their rights in fear of reprisals. Approving of laws on social justice, he declared it more important to live according to the grave obligations of conscience.

pro-Basque rally, Bilbao, 1970s

Determined to challenge Marxism, Añoveros was even more critical about the Francoist structures. Defending autonomy of Catholic trade unions he harangued against Falangist syndicates. After the death of conservative Enrique Pla y Deniel Añoveros became more vocal; he co-engineered condemnation of the official vertical unions, declared by the Bishops Conference in July 1968. With the censorship almost lifted, since 1966 his sermons were widely quoted in the Spanish press. Añoveros gained a nationwide reputation and rose to celebrity status (e.g. declared Person of the Year by the Catalan periodical Mundo in 1970). Some compared him to Hélder Câmara, chief exponent of the Latin American liberation theology.

Assuming the Bilbao bishopric Añoveros landed in the most unstable region of Spain, rocked by the Basque national tide. He soon identified himself as sympathetic, in February 1974 triggering the most dramatic crisis between Vatican and Francoist regime. Influenced by his vicar-general, Añoveros delivered a vaguely stated, almost Aesopian sermon that at one point called for Basque cultural freedom and a change in governmental policy on regional rights. The cabinet of Carlos Arias ordered house arrest and even sent a plane to Bilbao to fly him out into exile, while some bishops threatened excommunication of the regime officials in return. Franco has eventually overruled Arias and got the crisis defused while Añoveros was arranged to go on a long vacation.


the Basque standard

Antonio Añoveros was fairly often mentioned in the Spanish media during the early 2014, in the 40-th anniversary of caso Añoveros. He was credited for anti-Francoist stance, pro-democratic posture, social sensitivity, support for regional identities and generally progressive role in the history of the country. He was particularly appreciated in the Basque region, where some media named him, along Mateo Múgica and José María Setién, the key bishop or the most quoted bishop in the history of the Basque Church. The Carlist past of Añoveros and his relatively lukewarm approach towards the idea of religious freedom have scarcely been mentioned.

See also[edit]


  • Eusebio Gorritxategi San Sebastián, El centenario del obispo incómodo, [in:] Diario Vasco 13/06/2009
  • José Antonio Hidalgo, La energía de un hombre bueno [in:] Diario de Cádiz
  • Juan María Laboa, Los obispos españoles en el Concilio, [in:] Anuario de historia de la Iglesia 2005 (14), ISSN 11330104
  • Pablo Martín de Santa Olalla Saludes, Los gobiernos de Arias Navarro y la iglesia (1974-1965), [in:] Miscelánea Comillas 2013 (71)
  • Paweł Mielcarek, Wprowadzenie do lektury Nostra aetate [in:]
  • Paweł Mielcarek, Wprowadzenie do lektury Dignitatis Humanae [in:]
  • James I. Tucek, Council Takes Historic Votes to Bring Vernacular to the Mass, [in:] Catholic News Service, 9/10/2013
  • Evangelista Vilanova, Los "vota" de los obispos españoles después del anuncio del Concilio Vaticano II (1959) [in:] Revista Catalana de Teologia XV/2 (1990)

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