Deig was born ten years before Franco’s revolt launched the civil war that scarred Spain for generations. He studied at Solsona seminary, spending holidays labouring on the family farm, and graduated in Canon Law from Salamanca. He was ordained in 1949 by Vicent Enrique i Tarancón, then Bishop of Solosna, later famously Archbishop of Madrid during the transition to democracy.
In 1952, Fr Deig became secretary to Josep Pont i Gol, Bishop of Sogorb-Castelló until 1970 and then Archbishop of Tarragona, a courageous defender of Catalan culture under Franco’s 40-year centralist dictatorship. Deig served in this post until 1977, when he was consecrated Bishop of Menorca, moving to Solsona in 1991. Pont i Gol remained his closest friend, the inspiration for his episcopal style; the old prelate lived his last years in Deig’s Solsona palace. Both were deeply influenced by the Second Vatican Council. Deig took to heart the notion of a church open to dialogue, self-renewing, participative and close to its roots.
At Solsona, Deig’s Catalan nationalism came to the fore, expressed in diocesan publications and the secular media. His recurring complaint that the rest of Spain did not understand Catalonia’s identity extended to his brother bishops, even those of the region itself. It won him friends: Josep Lluís Carod-Rovira, leader of the Catalan Republican Left party, said Deig was “the kind of bishop who could get even old agnostics like me going back to Mass.”
A bishop, Deig declared, “should not be a politician; but must be ready to talk politics.” In his first year in the diocese, Deig launched his campaign for a new Catalan Episcopal Conference. Canon law, he argued, nowhere demanded that the church adhere to the political borders of mere states. To conservatives, this smacked of separatism. At the Vatican, Deig pleaded with John Paul II to include a blessing in Catalan in his next Urbe et Orbi address. By 1995, an Ecclesiastical Region of Catalonia was constituted, meeting Deig’s demands half-way.
Like many Catalans under Franco’s tyranny, Deig became a passionate supporter of Barcelona Football Club. ‘Barça’ was one of the few permitted channels whereby they could celebrate their difference, never more satisfactorily than when beating Real Madrid: Indeed, Deig claimed to have dithered in his youth between the priesthood and professional football.
Deig wrote on pastoral rather than theological themes, publishing half a dozen books of essays and interviews and three of poetry. In September 2001, he asked to retire on age grounds – though he remained active, having moved back to his birthplace at Navàs. His stomach cancer was diagnosed three weeks before his death in Manresa, the city where Ignatius of Loyola wrote his Spiritual Exercises. His funeral in Solsona Cathedral was celebrated by his successor, Bishop Jaume Trassera.
- Antoni Deig Clotet, Emeritus Bishop of Solsona, born 11 March 1926; died 12 August 2003