THE Catholic schools association in the country has elevated the case of St. John’s Institute (SJI), which was stripped of its Catholic status, to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
Fr. Joel Tabora, president of Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), said Tuesday he informed Bishop Roberto Mallari, chairman of Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education, about the issue through a letter that was sent the other day, as he questioned the move of Bacolod Bishop Patricio Buzon last year.
Buzon stripped the Catholic status of SJI, following a dispute over the ownership of the property on which the iconic Queen of Peace Parish Church stands.
The church is located inside the premises of the school, also known as Hua Ming.
Tabora, in a phone interview, said he, along with other CEAP officials, met with Buzon in Bacolod City on January 5 to talk about the matter.
He said they asked for an explanation as to why the Catholicity of SJI was no longer recognized. He added that Buzon’s answer was “a bit vague” due to the latter’s contradicting account.
Tabora said Buzon recognized that SJI continues to operate as Catholic school and even encouraged CEAP to continue its programs with the school so there is “intrinsic recognition,” but, there is extrinsic non-recognition of the school due to the bishop’s decree of relegation.
He added that it’s not the school board who pushed out the parish, but the bishop who pulled out the diocese.
Tabora said the move of Buzon was “unjust” and “abusive of the power of the bishop” as the latter is arbitrarily punishing the school at the expense of the students, teachers, and parents.
The punitive action is aimed at the board for a crime he didn’t specify, Tabora added.
In his letter to Buzon, Tabora appealed to the Bacolod bishop to change his stand.
“I would like to make an appeal for our member school, SJI, whose Catholicity heretofore has been a principle and hallmark of its service: that it be allowed to continue service in your Diocese as a Catholic school,” he said.
He said private Catholic schools throughout the country function with the full blessings and recognition of their ordinaries without any requirement that they host a diocesan territorial or personal parish.
“Our prayer is that the CEAP might be helpful in confirming the Catholicity of the school. Or that it may be helpful in mediating a solution to the ugly public dispute between the Diocese and the school,” he said.
The CEAP has sought the opinion of canon lawyer Fr. Adolfo Dacanay of the Ateneo de Manila University.
Dacanay said a parish is a public juridical person. “Consequently, it may acquire, administer, and alienate property in its own name. A parish that does not own the land and the structure which constitute anomaly.”
Dacanay, citing the canon law, said that the diocesan bishop alone can establish, suppress or alter parishes. “He is not to establish, suppress or notably alter them unless he has consulted the council of priests. However, before acting, the law obliges the bishop to consult the presbyteral council. Any such action taken without its (council) advice would be invalid.”
He also said that Buzon’s decree on the relegation of the Queen of Peace Parish Church which ceased to be a parish church and a Diocesan shrine is “canonically flawed.”
He explained that those who could lawfully claim rights for themselves in the church would be the judicial person or persons who own the church property.
“A physical person might also be able to claim rights, example: a major donor to the church whose donation was accepted on condition that the church would continue in use as a sacred place.”
He stressed that his comments are strictly from a canonical point of view.
Buzon said he met with the CEAP officials last January 5 and that he gave them the same answer expressed in the decision, though, he said he is open for reconciliation.
“We’ve always said we never closed the door,” he said.
On the claims of Tabora of abuse of power, Buzon said “that is the allegation Fr. Joel Tabora brought out in his letter after having heard from SJI. And that is why he came to get our side and I told him the same reasons which we have always maintained.”
Benjamin Lopue Jr., president of SJI Board of Trustees, said they will bring the matter to the Vatican.
"Such action of the Diocese is unjust and detrimental to the development of the spiritual growth of the 1,600 students of the school, their respective parents, families and the community being served by the school,” he said.
"CEAP through Fr. Tabora and canon lawyer Fr. Dacanay stated we have not committed any wrongdoings to be declared by the diocese as no longer a Catholic school,” he said.
He said they thought they already reached the “dead end” but they still had a chance because the CEAP opinion was in their favor.
Lopue said they are also seeking an audience with the Papal Nuncio as well with the Sacred Congregation of Schools at the Vatican in May this year. (with reports from Teresa D. Ellera)