Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J.
The yet unresolved public dispute between His Excellency, Most Rev. Patricio Buzon, Bishop of Bacolod, and St. John’s Institute (SJI), also known as Huaming (Lux, Light), necessitates a clarificatory discussion of the juridical personality in the Christian Communion of SJI, a Catholic School operated by Catholic laypersons for the education and evangelization of the youth, its obligations and rights. The clarification would benefit the relationship between the local bishops and Catholic schools in general. SJI serves youth in Bacolod, especially those belonging to the Filipino-Chinese Community. In civil society it subsists as a juridical person registered as a non stock, non profit corporation with the SEC under Philippine Law and it is recognized as a sectarian school by the Department of Education. It is a member in good standing of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines.
The Ecclesiastical Mission of Catholic Schools
Since its founding 59 years ago, SJI has operated as such a school, participating in the ecclesiastical mission of Catholic schools to respond (a) to “the right of all human beings for an education” and (b) “to the right of all Catholics to Catholic education” (cf. Gravissimum educationis 1, 2). This education aims not only for the maturing of the human person, “but has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced to the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of the Father they have received, and that they learn in addition how to worship God the Father in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23) especially in liturgical action, and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth (Eph. 4:22-24); also that they develop into perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13) and strive for the growth of the Mystical Body; moreover, that aware of their calling, they learn not only how to bear witness to the hope that is in them (cf. Peter 3:15) but also how to help in the Christian formation of the world that takes place when natural powers viewed in the full consideration of man redeemed by Christ contribute to the good of the whole society” (ibid).
This mission of Catholic education is echoed in Canon 795, “Since true education must strive for complete formation of the human person that looks to his or her final end as well as to the common good of societies, children and youth are to be nurtured in such a way that they are able to develop their physical, moral, and intellectual talents harmoniously, acquire a more perfect sense of responsibility and right use of freedom, and are formed to participate actively in social life.” The education that looks to the children’s transcendent and “final end” is sensitive to the mystery of salvation in grace, even as it is clearly to benefit “the good of the whole society” in history.
The importance of the mission of Catholic education for the human community as well as for the ecclesial community is clearly integral to the Church’s substantial understanding of the Catholic school, even as the canonical definition of the school (Can. 803), discussed below, focuses on external formalities. This canon recognizes the substantial reality of the Catholic school, even should, for whatever reason, it not be formally recognized by the bishop.
The Expected Support of Bishops for Catholic Schools
In Gravissimum educationis the Church states, “This Sacred Council of the Church earnestly entreats pastors and all the faithful to spare no sacrifice in helping Catholic schools fulfill their function in a continually more perfect way, and especially in caring for the needs of those who are poor in the goods of this world or who are deprived of the assistance and affection of a family or who are strangers to the gift of Faith.” In the case of SJI the resources for the continued operation of the Catholic school are gathered, dedicated, and cared for by the lay stewards of this Catholic school, many of them donations of the lay Filipino-Chinese community, evidencing the sacrifice of the faithful in the running of the Catholic school. Considering that there are opportunity costs for the individual donors in continuing to support this school, the gratitude of the pastors, and not the opprobrium, for the laypersons’ generosity in pooling treasure and managerial expertise towards helping SJI thrive as a Catholic school is appropriate.
Because of the importance of Catholic education, the Church declares it a serious obligation for pastors of the Church to make Catholic education accessible to the faithful. “Wherefore this sacred synod recalls to pastors of souls their most serious obligation to see to it that all the faithful, but especially the youth who are the hope of the Church, enjoy this Christian education” (ibid).
It might be inferred from this “most serious obligation” of pastors that where and Catholic schools are functioning in accordance with the Catholic educational mission pastors support and guide their substantial operation. This applies to SJI. Indeed, where SJI in fact focuses its educational efforts on the education and evangelization of the Filipino-Christian community, it resonates not only with the general goals of Catholic education but with a special focus in the educational mission of the Church, namely, on those “who are strangers to the gift of faith” (Gravissimum educationis, 2.) Over the years, this focus has in fact provided the Diocese of Bacolod with a healthy evangelized Catholic communion of Filipino Chinese, themselves in communion with the Catholic Diocese of Bacolod and with the universal Church.
The Canonical Understanding of the Catholic School
It is in this context that the following must be understood:
Can. 803 §1. A Catholic school is understood as one which a competent ecclesiastical authority or a public ecclesiastical juridic person directs or which ecclesiastical authority recognizes as such through a written document.
§2. The instruction and education in a Catholic school must be grounded in the principles of Catholic doctrine; teachers are to be outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life.
§3. Even if it is in fact Catholic, no school is to bear the name Catholic school without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.
Can 803 §3 concedes that a school “in fact” can be Catholic, even if the competent ecclesiastical authority, for whatever reason, does not consent that it bear the name of “Catholic.” It is not the recognition of the bishop that makes the school Catholic in fact, but the actual implementation by the school of the mission of providing Catholic education. The Catholic facticity of a school is not grounded in the permission of the ecclesiastical authority to call itself Catholic but in what is stated in §2, namely, that its instruction and education are “grounded in the principles of Catholic doctrine” and where “teachers are outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life.” To this may be added the context of Gravissimum educationis.
From the viewpoint of understanding what a Catholic school is, Can. 803 states that the school must be directed either by a competent ecclesiastical authority or a public ecclesiastical juridic person or which the ecclesiastical authority recognizes as such through a written document. There are therefore three ways by which a school is understood to be Catholic. In the case of SJI, it is not directed “by a competent ecclesiastical authority” like the bishop nor does the ecclesiastical authority today recognize it to be Catholic “through a written document.” In the interview I had with Bishop Buzon on Jan. 5, however, he declared he had quarrel neither with the teachers nor the students of SJI. He even said that CEAP should continue to exercise its programs in SJI. He was recognizing the school as Catholic in fact, even though he was withholding its public recognition because of his public disagreement with its Board of Trustees.
Here, the bishop is relating with the Catholic school as a “public ecclesiastical juridical person” with recognition at least of its implicit Catholic facticity.
SJI Publicly Recognized as Catholic by Four Bishops
Prior to Bishop Buzon, SJI was publicly recognized as Catholic by Bishops Yap, Fortich, Gregorio and Navarra. Competent ecclesiastical authority therefore had recognized SJI, a public non-stock non-profit corporation constituted by Catholic lay persons as a Catholic school dedicated to the human education and Catholic formation of youth in Bacolod, especial those coming from the Filipino-Chinese community, as the “public ecclesiastical juridic person” of Can. 803 §1. It is constituted by the continued public association of baptized persons of the Catholic communion (and therefore “ecclesiastical”) in a corporation bound by civil law for the manifest purpose of running a Catholic school. The prerogative to run a Catholic school belongs to the freedom of the children of God. “The Christian faithful are at liberty freely to found and direct associations for purposes of charity or piety or for the promotion of the Christian vocation in the world and to hold meetings for the common pursuit of these purposes” (Canon 215). “Since they participate in the mission of the Church, all the Christian faithful have the right to promote or sustain apostolic action even by their own undertakings, according to their own state and condition. Nevertheless, no undertaking is to claim the name Catholic without the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority” (Canon 216). Confer also Canon 312.
The “public ecclesiastical juridic person”, the school, once recognized by the competent ecclesiastical authority as a Catholic school, acquires the right to be publicly known as a Catholic school. This right is recognized and fortified in its acceptance into the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines which is overseen by its Episcopal Commission on Catholic Education under the chairmanship today of Bishop Roberto Mallari. The school serves the Catholic communion and civil society in the pursuit of its Catholic vision and mission through the implementation of its corporate statutes and ByLaws. If this right to serve is protected in civil law it ought a fortiori also be preserved in canon law, since the heart of the Catholic school qua Catholic is its evangelization and religious instruction and formation. Its Board of Trustees serves the Catholic communion in its stewardship of the Catholic school. Should SJI now be denied public recognition as Catholic by the bishop as a form of punishment, the bishop should in justice after due process kindly clarify why the punishment is imposed in accordance with canon law, considering the harmful impact the unwarranted punishment has not only on SJI, but on the reputation of Catholic schools as reliable educational institutions and on the esteem of episcopal authority and power. “The Christian faithful have the right not to be punished with canonical penalties except according to the norm of law” (Can. 221 §3). Short of this, the Bishop owes the Catholic-school-in-fact his public recognition, lest his refusal to recognize it be deemed arbitrary and ecclesiastical authority in general be compromised. In fact, SJI is a school understood to be Catholic as directed by “the public ecclesiastical juridic person” that SJI in fact is (cf. Can. 803 §1).
In my conversation with Bishop Buzon we offered the assistance of CEAP to do an external quality check on the operation of the school to assess its Catholicity according to the newly-articulated Philippine Catholic School Standards. But for Bishop Buzon the operation of the school as Catholic was not the problem.
Heart of Dispute Between Bishop Buzon and SJI
The public dispute that has led to Bishop Buzon’s withdrawal of his recognition of SJI as Catholic has to do with the use by the Diocese of Bacolod of the SJI chapel under the titular patronage of the Queen of Peace as a diocesan territorial parish. Twenty years ago, Bishop Camilo Gregorio “elevated” the school chapel into a territorial parish. The private school chapel thereby took on the functions of a diocesan territorial parish. Msgr. Gregorio erected the parish in SJI with the consent of one of its founders, Msgr. John Liu, but without the consent of the governing Board of Trustees, against the convictions of another founder, Fr. John Su, and against the advice of his canon lawyer, Msgr. Victorino Rivas. The latter argued that the ownership of the land and structure of the church by the diocese is a normal condition for the erection of a territorial parish. Canonist Fr Adolfo Dacanay, SJ states: “The comments of Msgr. Rivas that ‘it is normal practice that we do not create a parish if we do not own the property” is accurate. A parish is a public juridical person [C. 515.3]. Consequently, it may acquire, administer, and alienate property in its own name. A parish that does not own land and the structure which constitute it is an anomaly. The wisdom of the law is proven by the complications that beset the relationship between the school (SJI) and the parish.” Documents of ownership today are clearly in the name of SJI, based on the donations made by the Montelibano Family to the school. Competent representatives of the Montelibano family confirm the donations in favor of SJI, contrary to claims that the property was donated to the Diocese. Because the titles are now in the name of the SJI, should the Diocese assail the SJI ownership it must in justice file its claim in the civil courts which are alone competent to settle the ownership dispute; to deny resolution of the case in the civil courts and confine it to a spiritual or ecclesiastical plane where it cannot be resolved is unjust to SJI.
The predicament of the territorial parish and the Catholic school in SJI can be likened to a Catholic dog and a Catholic cat being placed by the Diocesan Bishop in a box where the Bishop mandates both to be their natural selves but not to fight because they are Catholic. After decades of trying to make the relationship work, the relationship between the parish and the school only deteriorated. Recently, parish tarpaulins were taken down, the school administrator was struck by a cleric, the pulpit was used to attack the persons of members of the Board of Trustees, the gates were closed to avert a planned occupation of the SJI grounds by parish GKK. In this context, the Board of Trustees of the Catholic school decided it was in the best interests of the Catholic school that its Mary the Queen Church no longer host the territorial parish but be reverted to the chapel of the Catholic school.
That is was Boards of Trustees do. It belongs to their mandate representing the public ecclesiastical juridic person of the school to make decisions according to its best lights in the interests of the school.
The SJI decision was not received well by Bishop Buzon who had been convinced that with more openness, collaboration and respect for the needs of the parish and for episcopal authority on the part of the Board, the parish could continue to function in SJI. His interpretation, therefore, was that the Board of Trustees had “booted out” the Diocese from SJI, while all it had in fact decided was that its facilities, original meant for the Catholic school, be used for the legitimate prayer and worship of the Catholic community of the school, and not for a parish. Convinced however that the school had booted out the Diocese, Bishop Buzon “pulled out the Diocese” from the school, even though the nature and consequences of this dire episcopal action are undefined. He operationalized his “pull out” in two decrees, the Decree on the Transfer of the Queen of Peace Parish Church (Reg. No. 2017-002, Book of Decrees) and the Decree on the Relegation of Queen of Peace Parish Church (Reg, No. 2017-001, ibid). Both decrees were signed by Bishop Buzon as Bishop of Bacolod and by Fr. Roy Christian Gesulgon as chancellor.
SJI’s Alleged Loss of its Catholicity as a Result of Bishop’s Decrees
It his letter to me as CEAP President, Bp. Buzon wrote, “…by virtue of my Decrees on the Transfer of the Queen of Peace Parish Church and the Relegation of the Queen of Peace Parish [sic.], both dated 31 May 2017, the presence and engagements of the Diocese in Hua Ming also ceased. Consequently, St. John’s Institute also ceased to be a Catholic school. The Board of Trustees of St. John’s Institute has decided to boot us out of Hua Ming and as such they have to be responsible and accept the consequences of their decision.”
There is no problem with the first decree. The transfer of the parish to another site was the longtime request of the Board.
But the Decree of Relegation is problematic. It was not expected. It is punitive in nature, but does not provide a warrant for the punitive action. The circumstance of its issuance is “the conclusion of the dialogue between the Diocese of Bacolod and the Board of Trustees of St. John Institute regarding the Huaming controversy” and “in consideration of the position papers, documents and formal meetings conducted with the faithful of the said parish and concerned groups.” But the particular crime warranting this drastic punishment in these circumstances is not formally articulated. From my dialogue with Bp. Buzon the punitive action was against the Board of Trustees who had willed its church no longer to be used for the operation of a territorial parish but reverted to a school chapel in accordance with the will of its donors. In his letter to me, Bp. Buzon charges that the Board of Trustees “booted the Diocese out” of Huaming. But this was in fact not the intention of the Board of Trustees. The Decree of Relegation was the Bishop’s action based on his misinterpretation or misrepresentation of the intention of the Board. While the Board clearly wanted to use its church as the Catholic center of the school where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved and as the venue for Catholic prayer and worship, where the religious instruction on the centrality of the Eucharist and the salvific importance of the Sacraments might be actually experienced by the school community, a privilege in grace enjoyed by most Catholic schools, the Bishop decreed:
- That the existing structure, Queen of Peace Parish Church ceases to be a Parish Church and a Diocesan Shrine
- That as a consequence to this,
- there is a suspension of all church services (cessatio a divinis Canons 1212 and 1222)
- no reservation of the Blessed Sacrament be permitted within the Queen of Peace Parish Church and its Adoration Chapel (Canon 1934 par. 2)
- That all clergy, diocesan or religious, are under obligation to abstain from celebrating the sacraments and others rites in the Queen of Peace Parish Church.
But appreciating that the Queen of Peace Church ceases to be a Parish Church in (1), the asserted consequence in (2) is a pastoral if not a canonical non-sequitur. The Bishop could simply have allowed the sacred structure to be used as a school chapel. Instead, in an action that was punitive and vindictive, he used his episcopal authority to suspend church services in the Queen of Peace Church, proscribe therein the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, and obligated all clergy to abstain from celebrating the sacraments and other rites in the Queen of Peace church.
When I shared with the bishop that those who were now suffering from this relegation were primarily the learners and the teachers of SJI who must now take great pains to participate in the Eucharist in a church not their own, he said it is up to the Board of Trustees to explain this to them. But the Board of Trustees did not boot the Diocese out of Huaming. The bishop “pulled the diocese out” based on his misrepresentation of the Board’s position. In his letter to me he wrote, “The Board of Trustees of St. John’s Institute has decided to boot us out of Hua Ming and as such they have to be responsible and accept the consequences of their decision.” I do not interpret the Board not wanting its church to be used for the operation of a territorial parish as booting the Diocese and the Church out of the Catholic school.
The first non sequitur of Bishop Buzon is that as a consequence of the Queen of Peace Parish Church ceasing to be a Parish Church or a Diocesan Shrine, the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in the church and the celebration Catholic liturgy and rites follow.
The second non-sequitur is what he writes in his letter to me as CEAP President:
“And so, by virtue of my Decrees on the Transfer of the Queen of Peace Parish Church and the Relegation of the Queen of Peace Parish, both dated 31 May 2017, the presence and engagements of the diocese in Hua Ming also ceased. Consequently, St John’s Institute also ceased to be a Catholic school.”
It is a non-sequitur because the Catholic school is still in fact running – faithful to its mission not only to provide human beings an education but to provide Catholics a Catholic education.
The bishop clearly links his non-recognition of SJI as Catholic to the two decrees, but there is nothing in the nature of a Catholic school that necessitates that it host the operation of a territorial parish. In his withdrawal of recognition, he implies that there is such a necessity. Otherwise he could not say, “Consequently, St.. John’s Institute also ceased to be a Catholic school.” Here the Bishop errs. He punishes the school and its young learners for his error.
There is a third non sequitur: that considering the circumstances described at the head of the Decree of Relegation, the Decree of Relegation is valid.
Here I quote the comment of canonist Fr. Adolfo Dacanay, S.J., on Bishop Buzon’s Decree of Relegation, which I submitted to Bishop Buzon:
“The decree refers to two canons [cc 1212 and 1222] and therefore something should be said about these canons.
“1) C. 1212. Sacred places lose their dedication of blessing if they have been in great measure destroyed, or if they have been permanently made over to secular usage, whether by decree of the competent ordinary or simply in fact.
“(a) The sacred place has not been destroyed in great measure; in fact it is exactly as it was before it became a parish church, when it was a parish church, and after the seat of the parish was moved.
“(b) Neither has the sacred place been permanently made over to secular usage. The Commentary of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland says: the place may be made over (to secular usage) by a decision of the appropriate Ordinary whose decree to this effect itself brings about the loss of the dedication or blessing.
“2) The first paragraph of C. 1222 does not apply to the situation of the Hua Ming (If a church cannot in any way be used for divine worship and there is no possibility of it being restored…). The second paragraph contains two clauses:
“(a) The first clause: where other grave reasons suggest that a particular church should no longer be used for divine worship, the diocesan bishop may allow it to be used for a secular by not unbecoming purpose. The question her is not the structural defect of the edifice but the changed circumstances. Many US churches have been reduced to secular use because populations have moved from inner cities and the church does not serve its original purpose anymore. In this case, the bishop may reduce it to secular us. But this is not the case with the Mary, Queen of Peace Church either
“(b) But the second clause of the second paragraph is relevant to the question at hand. ‘But before doing so (reducing the church to secular use) he must first consult the council of priests; he must also have the consent of those who could lawfully claim rights over the church…’
“The New Commentary of the Canon Law Society of America has these explanations:
“[i] he must determine that there is a grave reason for doing so, e.g. inadequate finances to maintain the church properly, or a small number of parishioners together with a shortage of priests.
“[ii] he must consult the presbyteral council.
“[iii] he must have the consent of those who could legitimately claim rights for themselves in the church, which consent is necessary for the validity of the act (c. 127.2.1)
“[iv] he must determine that the good of souls should not be harmed.
“[v] he must determine that the proposed use will not be sordid, which judgment should be made in keeping with cultural variables and local circumstances.
“Those who could lawfully claim rights for themselves in the church would be the juridical person or persons who own the church property. A physical person might also be able to claim rights, e.g. a major donor to the church whose donation was accepted on condition that the church would continue in use as a sacred place.
“The decree of the bishop is therefore canonically flawed for these reasons.”
We must conclude that the Bishop issued the Decree of Relegation invalidly.
Mary the Queen Church was blessed and consecrated for sacred use by Bishop Manuel Yap in 1966. It is still a structure that can be used worthily for worship. Despite his Decree of Relegation, it is still in daily use by the Faithful for prayer and devotion, especially to Mary, Queen of Peace. But the Decree of Relegation has caused scandal and division in the Christian community, where the Bishop appears to have weaponized the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacraments in Mary the Queen Church to punish the Huaming Board for no stated crime in canon law. In issuing his Decree of Relegation on May 31 2017 he did not have the consent of the owners, SJI. He did not have the consent of the major donors, the Montelibano family. On the contrary, both the owners and the donors stand to the sacred purposes for which the property and Church were donated, constructed and consecrated, and so object to the unwarranted Decree of Relegation.
SJI and the CEAP take exception to the Bishop’s non recognition of the Catholicity of the SJI as a consequence of the Decree of Transfer of Parish and the manifestly invalid Decree of Relegation and pray that it be immediately rescinded or be declared publicly as invalid. 
Some Important Concerns
Where the support of the local Bishop for a Catholic school is normally the case, the public and scandalous nature of the dispute between the Bishop of Bacolod and the SJI necessitates that the Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education (ECCCE) of the CBCP in dialogue with the CEAP address the following concerns for the good of the Church:
The nature of the Catholic School as a public ecclesiastical juridic person, whether it be run by priests, religious or lay persons, subject to the recognition of the Bishop, be clarified. There is nothing in the nature of the priest nor of the religious that guarantees that either would run a Catholic school better than qualified lay persons. There is nothing in the nature of the Catholic school that necessitates that its chapel be used by the Diocese as a territorial parish. What are its obligations? What are its rights? Does it have the right to due process. When it is the object of unjust punitive action, how may it find relief?
That the nature of recognition by the Bishop of a school as Catholic be clarified. When may it be given? What is the “written document” of recognition required for recognition. Many of the functioning Catholic schools would not be able to produce a document of recognition by the local bishop. When may this recognition be withdrawn? What is the effect of the withdrawal of the recognition? This clarification is especially necessary in the light of Canon 803 §3 “Even if it is in fact Catholic, no school is to bear the name Catholic school without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.” But it is also necessary to protect and promote the Catholic school in fact, i.e., in its evangelization and in its Catholic instruction and formation.
How is the supervisory role of the Bishops over schools in fact exercised. Today, where the diocesan superintendent oversees diocesan schools, the congregational superintendents or the religious superiors themselves oversee congregational schools, who oversees the Catholic schools run by laypersons according to Can 216? Could this be a function added to the diocesan superintendent? Or might the CEAP play a role here in the service of both the Bishop and the school? How is the supervision of the Bishops exercised over universities whose academic freedom is recognized both in civil law and in Ex Corde Ecclesiae?
How can the Christian community and the public, including the Pastors of the Church who are normally not directly involved in the running of Catholic schools, be assured that Catholic schools are good Catholic schools, i.e., competent in the delivery of human education and Christian formation? How is quality assurance practiced among the Catholic schools, especially when the schools’ function of evangelization and Christian formation for the common good are concerned? Here, it may not be enough to use the Philippine Catholic School Standards (PCSS) as an instrument of Internal Quality Assurance. For greater objectivity, external bodies composed of competent peers in Catholic education using process standards of assessment such as those of the PCSS may be necessary.
 Some have interpreted this as a “local interdict.” But canon law today no longer provides for a local interdict.
 Bishop Patricio Buzon to Fr. Joel Tabora as CEAP President, Nov. 27, 2017.
 I submitted the text of Fr. Adolfo Dacanay’s Opinion signed and dated Jan. 3, 2018 to Bishop Buzon together with my letter to him dated Jan 5, 2018.
 I have written a formal letter to Bishop Roberto Mallari, Chair of ECCE, in this regard dated 7 January 2018. I met him personally and discussed the letter with him on 12 January 2018. I discussed my letter to Bishop Mallari with Abp. Romulo Valles, President of the CBCP, on 13 January 2018.
 cf. Canons 208, 215, 216