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The frail scholar, who, from childhood onwards, battled a series of health problems, would have probably devoted his entire life to intellectual pursuits in the relative comfort of the study chamber, had he been born in a different time and place. As it was, however, Jose Maria Gonzalez Ruiz lived his life in accordance with the message of his own teachings, and he lived a more than full life. After 1961, often spending time in his tiny apartment with little daylight in 20 Calle Galileo in the Arg^lles district in central Madrid, ‘little by little, and with the help of some friends, the minuscule flat became converted into a mini-residence, crammed with books from top to bottom, and it also became a pilgrimage destination for a significant proportion of the “Spanish intelligentsia”, and for young people fighting for democracy’.[1] In Malaga, Gonzalez Ruiz likewise became a magnet for opposition activists, together with his older brother and the rather charismatic figure on the Christian Left,

Alfonso Carlos Comm, who took up residence in the Andalusian port city in the early 1960s.[2] The underground trade union network, which eventually grew into a central challenge to the Francoist state, the Comisiones Obreras, constituted themselves in a slow and dangerous process at first within individual locations before going on to create a provincial and then a national umbrella. In 1966, the underground Comisiones Obreras of Malaga held their founding convention in the home of Jose Maria Gonzalez Ruiz![3]

In the course of editorial work on an ecumenical edition of the New Testament in 1966, Gonzalez Ruiz spent significant stretches of time in Barcelona. He used his presence in the Catalan capital also to give incendiary sermons in the parish church near where he was staying. Gonzalez Ruiz soon began to coordinate a quickly growing group of dissident local priests. When news broke of a particularly horrendous act of torture of an activist student in the city, an unprecedented 100 priests gathered in the Barcelona cathedral, collectively reciting biblical passages and prayers before marching to the neighbouring prefect’s office to deliver a protest message. When the demonstrators reached the building, their entry was blocked by riot police who proceeded to bludgeon and beat indiscriminately the stunned group of priests. Several of the protesters needed to be hospitalized, and the brutal repressive act made national and international news. Vicious repression of demonstrators was not at all unusual in this mainstay of the ‘free world’, but for a significant number of priests to become such victims was unprecedented.[4]

Finally, in the course of 1968, Jose Maria Gonzalez Ruiz was prosecuted by the judiciary. A text he had first delivered as an oral presentation in Italian at the ecumenical retreat centre of Agape, run by Waldensians in the Italian Alps west of Turin, served as a pretext. The piece, entitled ‘Christianity and Revolution’, scheduled to be published in the February 1968 Catholic Action Boletin de la HOAC, contained a passage in which Gonzalez Ruiz refused to disown legitimate acts of violent self-defence by victims of aggression, something which the Francoist state interpreted as a sanction of armed revolt. In a letter to a leading co-thinker and Catholic activist in Italy, Don Enzo Mazzi, spiritual leader of the flagship base community of the Isolotto in Florence, Gonzalez Ruiz wrote that

they are asking for three months of incarceration and a 100,000 lire fine. But, as the article in question was, earlier on, already published in the review Surge, a publication of spiritual reflections geared at priests, they are preparing for another court case for having published the article there as well. Yet another judicial procedure is under way: We sent a letter to the Minister of the Interior protesting against the use of torture. 1,500 signatures were collected—of which a good number of priests: the abbot of Montserrat and many others (a certain Gonzalez Ruiz amongst them). I have no idea how they will manage to take 1,500 people at the same time to court.[5]

In the end, on 9 March 1969, Gonzalez Ruiz was acquitted of all charges in the case of the contested article, as the judges found that the piece was not directed against the Spanish state but more properly belonged to ‘the speculative terrain of Social Christian philosophy’. The Boletin de la HOAC including the incriminating ‘speculations’ by Gonzalez Ruiz was nonetheless refused permission to be distributed, and all copies of the confiscated Boletin were destroyed.[6]

Gonzalez Ruiz was certainly what Antonio Gramsci would have called an ‘organic intellectual’, even if hailing from the rival Catholic fold. It is instructive to compare the Andalusian theologian of world renown with the most famous second wave theologian of Italian descent, presented in the preceding subsection of this chapter. Ernesto Balducci never shied away from an uncompromising defence of Catholic dissent, but he rarely merged his own world view with that of the radical grassroots movements under attack. Despite his passionate advocacy of the disinherited within the Catholic church, Balducci ultimately stayed aloof from their day-to-day practices. Two veteran activists of the Isolotto base community, Urbano Cipriani and Sergio Gomiti, recently put it like this: ‘Father Balducci was no parish priest. His [ultimate] target audience was reform theology and the enlightened bourgeoisie.’ Gonzalez Ruiz was also no parish priest, but in the frequent evocation of Gonzalez Ruiz’s interactions with the Isolotto community in conversations with this author forty-five years after the events, base community activists firmly and persistently point to Gonzalez Ruiz as the one progressive theologian who stood closest to this beleaguered community even and especially at the darkest of all times. It is of more than symbolic value that, during his frequent visits to Florence, Gonzalez Ruiz, even when on official church business, never even once stayed in housing provided by the Florentine hierarchy but always chose to be accommodated by families in the Isolotto.[7]

The title of Gonzalez Ruiz’s 1967 monograph, Creer es comprometerse (To Believe is to Get Involved), became a slogan taking on a life of its own in the rapidly burgeoning Left Catholic communities across Spain[8] and elsewhere. We will see in the following chapters how the theological messages portrayed in this opening chapter were translated into activism by a growing army of believers in Europe as a whole.

  • [1] Gonzalez Ruiz, Memorias de un cura, p. 140.
  • [2] There are several book-length publications about this prominent and ubiquitous Catholicactivist, whose political commitments included leading roles in the Spanish New Left, Far Left,and Old Left. Note, above all, Francisco Martinez Hoyos, La cruz y el martillo. Alfonso CarlosComm y los cristianos comunistas (Barcelona: Rubeo, 2009), and Jose Antonio Gonzalez Casanova,Comm, mi amigo (Barcelona: El Lector Universal, 2010).
  • [3] Carmen R. Garcia Ruiz and Alberto Carrillo-Linares, ‘Cobertura de la Iglesia a la oposi-cion politico-sindical al Franquismo. La colaboracion con CC.OO. Los casos de Malaga y Sevilla’,in Jose Maria Castells, Jose Hurtado, and Josep Maria Margenat (eds), De la dictadura a lademocracia. La accion de los Cristianos en Espana (1939-1975) (Bilbao: Desclee de Brouwer,2005), p. 41; Francisca Sauquillo Perez del Arco, ‘El Compromiso de una vida’, in Castells,Hurtado, and Margenat (eds), De la dictadura a la democracia, p. 467; and Rafael Morales Ruizand Antonio Miguel Bernal, ‘Del Marco de Jerez al Congreso de Sevilla. Aproximacion a lahistoria de las CC OO de Andalucia (1962-1978)’, in David Ruiz (ed.), Historia de ComisionesObreras (1958-1988) (Madrid: Siglo XXI, 1993), p. 238.
  • [4] Gonzalez Ruiz, Memorias de un cura, pp. 119-21.
  • [5] Letter (in Italian) by Jose Maria Gonzalez Ruiz to Don Enzo Mazzi, 20 January 1969—Archivio storico della Comunita dell’Isolotto, Florence, Italy, LT 0531.
  • [6] For Gonzalez Ruiz’s own detailed account of this affair, see Gonzalez Ruiz, Memorias deun cura, pp. 122-7. Even the library of the HOAC in Madrid today does not have a copy ofthis confiscated journal; see email communication from ‘Noticias Obreras’ to this author,15 February 2013.
  • [7] Note the written confirmation of these observations, frequently evoked in the course ofconversations during this author’s two-week visit to Florence in late January and early February2012, in a letter to the author by Urbano Cipriani and Sergio Gomiti on 18 February 2013.
  • [8] This, at any rate, is the claim by the historian of Catalan progressive Catholicism, JoanCastanas, in his El progressisme Catolic a Catalunya (1940-1980). Aproximacio historica(Barcelona: La Llar des Llibre, 1988), p. 296.
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