A RECENT column of Atty. Jose Sison (A Law Each Day, The Philippine Star 8.XI.2010, p.15) caught my attention. Quoting an e-mail he received from a Jose Teodoro Sagalo, he focused on what the latter qualified as “grave error that the Loyola School of Theology has posted in the Ateneo website endorsed earlier by Fr. Nebres, Ateneo President, for reflection, and now endorsed by Roberto Rivera of the John Carroll Institute.” A quick check of the primary source verified the presence of the offensive proposals, in a paper issued jointly by the Loyola School of Theology and the John J. Carroll Institute of Church and Social Issues and authored by Fr. Eric O. Genilo, S.J., Fr, John J. Carroll, S.J., and Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J.
The questions posed by our concerned reader were: Can these theologians, teaching in a Catholic university, where young minds are supposedly being formed in the Catholic faith, maintain such doctrinally questionable positions with impunity? Can’t the Law of the Church even protect the youngest of its own faithful against doctrinal error? Or put another way, if the bishops are so concerned about the environmental degradation brought about by irresponsible mining, shouldn’t they be more concerned about the doctrinal confusion brought about by irresponsible theologizing in Catholic universities? After all, environmental degradation is not as serious as the erosion of the Catholic faith, which is at bottom the reason for the increasing acceptance of the RH Bill among the Catholic faithful—including government policy-makers.
These questions are masterfully answered in a book by Jesu Pudumai Doss, SDB, entitled Freedom of Enquiry and Expression in the Catholic Church: A Canonico-Theological Study, published by Kristu Jyoti Publications, Bangalore (India) in 2007. Based on the author’s doctoral dissertation in Canon Law at the Salesian Pontifical University (Rome), the book bears a foreword by Angelo Amato, then Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The pertinent sections are contained in Chapter III of the book, entitled Magisterium and Theologians: A Multifaceted Rapport (pp.157-240).
Doss summarized the juridic regulation of the relationship between Magisterium and theologian—which can be applied to the case of the Church authorities in the Philippines (the individual bishops or the CBCP) vis-à-vis the theology professors in Catholic universities (not only the Loyola School of Theology, but also other faculties of theology in the country, e.g., Maryhill School of Theology)—in a series of canonically regulated institutions: (1) the mandate to teach for professors, (2) the Profession of Faith and the Oath of Fidelity required of said professors, (3) the prior approval of (or nihil obstat) and the permission to publish (or imprimatur) writings dealing with faith and morals; and (4) the doctrinal examination by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
I. The Mandate to Teach Theological Disciplines
Church Law provides a guarantee of orthodoxy in Catholic teaching by requiring a mandate for all those who teach theological disciplines in Catholic Universities and other institutes of higher studies (c.812), and in the Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties (c.818). It is given by the competent ecclesiastical authority (cc.812, 818)—(1) the Holy See by virtue of the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff (cc. 331, 333§1, 361), (2) the Episcopal Conferences (cc.809, 821) and the diocesan Bishops (c.386 §2) and those equivalent to them—who have the right of vigilance (c.810 §2), although such authority can also be delegated.
The appointment of professors for theological disciplines is a complex process that can be summarized in 5 steps: (1) the designation of a particular individual as a candidate professor, (2) the verification of his/her scientific and pedagogical competence, (3) the conferment of the teaching post, (4) the stipulation of a contract of employment, (5) the beginning of the didactic work. The mandate is situated in the second step of this process and involves a judgment of orthodoxy on the one hand (i.e., the compatibility of the doctrine taught by the candidate professor with Catholic doctrine), and of moral uprightness on the other (i.e., his personal status with that of the Catholic community).
It is important to emphasize that the mandate is neither an authorization to teach nor a canonical mission, but is only a certification that the professor is not teaching anything objectionable in matters concerning faith or morals and is doing so in communion with the Church. Thus, the mandate cannot be used to teach apart from the Church and much less against the Church; there is no room for active dissent in Catholic theology. In fact, it can be withdrawn—and I daresay I should be withdrawn—when there is an absence of communion between the theologian and the Church (c.253 §3).
At this point, one wonders how avowed atheists were teaching theology in a well-known Catholic university in Manila, and how a group of professors could sign a position in open defiance of the CBCP stand on the RH Bill in another Catholic university in Quezon City.
2. The Profession of Faith and the Oath of Fidelity
The Profession of Faith is a public declaration of one’s sharing in the faith of a believing community in Christ and his Church. Thus, it is both an act of cult to God himself and an important manifestation of the need to live in an authentic spirit of communion towards the competent Church authority and with the entire People of God.
The new formula of the Professio fidei begins with an introductory affirmation of faith. This is followed by the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, but formulated in the first person singular: “I believe”. It concludes with the three propositions or paragraphs, which distinguishes the order of the truths and the proper response of the believer to it as follows:
1st Category: “[E]verything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed." These are truths found immediately in Revelation, which the Church vouches for as contained in Revelation. This are supposed to be held “with firm faith”, because their certainty has a twofold basis: the authority of God Revealing (fides divina) and the infallible teaching authority of the Church (fides catholica).
These are commonly referred to in Dogmatic Theology as De fide Divina et Catholica or simply dogmas.
2nd Category: “[E]verything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.” These constitute what Dogmatic Theology has always referred to as Catholic truths or Church doctrines, which are to be accepted with a faith based on the sole authority of the Church (fides ecclesiastica). Even if the Profession fidei did not expressly state it, these are as infallibly certain as dogmas proper.
3rd Category: “[T]he teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act." These are the teachings for which the CIC stipulates “A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith” (c.752).
Can.833 provides an exhaustive list of persons who are legally obliged to pronounce personally the Professio fidei and those persons in whose presence it is to be pronounced. They include (in what is relevant to the present discussion): (1) rectors and professors of theology and philosophy in seminaries; (2) the Rector of the Ecclesiastical or Catholic universities, in the presence of the Chancellor or the local Ordinary (or the delegates of either), and (3) those who in any university teach subjects which deal with faith or morals, in the presence of the rector (if he is a priest) or the Local Ordinary or the delegates of either (italics added).
The Oath of Fidelity, on the other hand, can be considered as a public pledge to fulfill the duties incumbent on a subject in exercising an office or in undertaking a specific task (e.g., to teach theology) in a spirit of loyalty to the whole ecclesiastical community.
Both the Profession of Faith and the Oath of Fidelity involve three parties then: the community to which a specific service is rendered, the ecclesiastical authority who entrusts the task, and the person concerned who accepts to fulfill the office in a spirit of loyalty.
Again, at this point I wonder how I keep on getting reports of heterodox teachings being foisted on the young and innocent by professors teaching either theology or matters related to faith and morals in Catholic institutions. Could it be that such professors are not making either the professio fidei or the iusiurandum fidelitatis?
3. Ecclesiastical Permission for Publications on Faith and Morals
The procedure for obtaining permission or approval to publish books can be broadly divided into two parts:
1st The prior examination of the book by the censors and the granting of the nihil obstat (c.830). The examination, preceding the granting of permission, is done by a censor or censors, chosen by the Local Ordinary with the following traits: scientia, recta doctrina et prudentia (c.380 §1). The censor/s should give his judgment based only on the doctrine of the Church on faith and morals, as proposed by the ecclesiastical magisterium, without any personal preference or partialities. This judgment—whether positive or negative—should contain the reasons on which it is based and should be given in writing, dated and signed. It is usually called the nihil obstat, since its positive judgment should guarantee that the writing has nothing contrary to the doctrine of the Church.
2nd The permission to publish, called the imprimatur, granted by the Local Ordinary. If the judgment of the aforementioned censor/s is favorable, the Ordinary can give the permission to publish in his own name, detailing the date and place it was granted. However, the Ordinary’s decision pro suo prudenti iudicio (c.830 §3) is an independent one, which takes wider issues in consideration as regards giving or withholding the permission to publish. Nevertheless, in case the permission is denied by a Local Ordinary, it can either be requested from any other competent Ordinary or an administrative recourse sought from the CDF.
The range of writings requiring the nihil obstat and/or imprimatur has been narrowed to a few categories of writings in the present Code (cc.825-829), which we can narrow further to what is relevant to the present discussion as follows:
(1) Books on Sacred Scripture, Theology, Canon Law, Church History or other religious or moral disciplines to be used as textbooks in schools at various levels need prior or successive approval of the competent ecclesiastical authority (c.827 §2).
(2) The permission of the Local Ordinary is needed for clerics and members of religious institutes to write in newspapers, magazines or periodicals, which usually attack openly the Catholic religion or good morals (c.831 §1). Likewise, the permission of their major superior is required to publish writings on religion or morals by the members of the religious institutes (c.832).
(3) No writings, especially books that deal with religion or morals, can be displayed, sold or distributed in Churches or oratories without the prior permission or successive approval of the competent authority (c.827 §4).
(4) Books which deal with matters of Sacred Scripture, Theology, Canon Law,
Church History, or religious or moral disciplines—but not used as textbooks for teaching—are recommended to be submitted for prior judgment of the pastors (c.827 §3).
In this regard, I cannot help but think of the repeated attacks on official Catholic teaching regarding contraception, theology of liberation and even the distinction of Church and State (hence, the non-involvement of clerics on partisan politics) that appear on Philippine dailies in the columns of clerics and religious; or of the occasional book in theology (especially moral theology) that finds its way in bookstands in Catholic venues, without a nihil obstat and much less an imprimatur. Again, one wonders if the aforementioned norms regarding publications by clerics and members of religious institutes are being enforced.
4. The Doctrinal Examination by the CDF
The responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel and the truths of the faith in its purity and entirety is that of the Supreme Pontiff and the College of Bishops as regards the Universal Church, and the individual Bishops for the particular Churches (c.756). Thus, after everything else may have failed, the doctrinal examination by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith constitutes a final instrument for the vicarious exercise of the Papal responsibility to safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals in the whole Catholic world.
The procedures for such a doctrinal examination were formulated in 1971, on indication of Paul VI, at the height of the postconciliar crisis in Catholic doctrine. It was renewed in 1997 in view of the new Code of Canon Law of 1983. Without going into the details now, a cursory reading of the renewed Agendi ratio of 1997 gives us an idea of the process. The 29 articles are divided into five parts: (1) Preliminary Examination, (2) Office Study, (3) Ordinary Procedure of Examination, (4) Procedure of Examination in case of Urgency, and (5) Disciplinary Measures.
The CBCP has been engaged in a heroic battle to resist the attempts in no less than three Congresses to pass the Reproductive Health Bill. Each time, despite the perseverance of the pro-Life and pro-Family advocates, the resistance against the forces of the RH Bill proponents has been slowly going down: from a high during Estrada’s time, a lower but still strong anti-contraceptive stand during GMA’s presidency, to an all-time low in the present regime. I am convinced there is a strong inverse correlation between the acceptance of the Church teaching against contraception—which has been going down in the Philippines in recent years—and the acceptance of a RH Bill. Furthermore, I am convinced that such rejection of the Church teaching regarding the intrinsic evil of contraception is primarily fomented in the very heart of some of the best-known Catholic colleges and universities.
The Bishops are totally empowered to make these persons and institutions toe the line:
1st by enforcing the canonical requirement of the mandate for teaching on matters regarding faith and morals;
2nd by enforcing the canonical requirement of the professio fidei and the iusiurandum fidelitatis for those who teach matters regarding faith and morals;
3rd by enforcing the requirements set down by Canon Law regarding the publication of writings regarding faith and morals—i.e., the nihil obstat and the imprimatur for books and the required permission for cleric and religious columnists in newspapers.
Faith is the beginning of salvation. Logically, the erosion of the faith—by the uncorrected teaching of erroneous doctrine in Catholic institutions—is the beginning of perdition.