Tell it to SunStar: To ordain or not to ordain Filipinos

Tell it to SunStar.
Tell it to SunStar.SunStar file photo

By Terry McGuire

The simpler the society the more important the role of the shaman or priest. At the time of the Jesuits’ arrival in 1581, the Philippines was largely a tribal-peasant society. The missionaries brought elaborate rituals with specialised music and language celebrated by specialised religious practitioners. These rituals would have great appeal to Filipinos. The resulting demand was considerable. The supply of priests was seldom able to meet demand. Even in the 1960s, foreign missionaries were still arriving.

Among the Jesuits there was a long-standing debate on this issue: to ordain or not to ordain Filipinos. “It does not appear that they ever seriously considered at this time the admission of ‘indios,’ that is, pure blooded Filipinos, to membership.” (p. 233)

In contrast, the Portuguese Jesuits in Japan did accept Japanese candidates into both priesthood and brotherhood. In 1555, the first council of Mexico declared that holy orders were not to be conferred on “indios, mestizos and mulattoes because they resembled descendants of the Moors and persons who had been sentenced by the Inquisition as lacking in good repute ... ” (p. 233)

Later councils continued to support this racist reasoning and this was the basis to this discriminatory policy.

One dissenting voice was Jesuit Jose de Acosta (Peru) who questioned this stereotyping and brought forward a more scriptural argument: “Timothy, after all, St. Paul’s disciple whom he consecrated bishop, was a child of a pagan father and a Jewish mother,” Unfortunately the racist arguments won the day: “... there is no record of a native Filipino becoming a Jesuit, even as a lay brother before the expulsion of the society in 1768.” A period of 187 years.

Is it possible in years to come that people will be looking at the non-ordination of women in a similar light?

Source: Horatio dela Costa, S.J. 1961. Jesuits In the Philippines 1581-1768


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