As Pastors and teachers of the flock and representatives on earth of that Divine Master who showed a special tenderness and affection for children, expressing His predilection in those touching words: “Suffer the little children to come unto Me” (Mark 10, 14), we feel that we must speak out clearly and firmly on the issue of religious instruction which is now being debated in the halls of our Legislative branch of government. As members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church which is the Mother and Teacher of nations, we have inherited the double task entrusted to this Church by her Divine Founder; of begetting sons unto herself, born in Christ Jesus, and of educating and governing those whom she begets, guiding with maternal providence the life both of individuals and of peoples. In this nation where we are the Spiritual leaders of the vast majority of the people we can not keep silence when an issue of such vital importance is in danger of being misinterpreted, misrepresented, and distorted by a small but articulate minority. In such circumstances silence would be a betrayal of our sacred trust and duty to our beloved Catholic people of the Philippines.
We refer, of course, to the proposed bill before the Senate, known popularly as the Cuenco Bill which authorizes public school teachers to teach religion in public schools voluntarily. The Bill provides that the teachers will confine all their voluntary optional religious teaching within the period authorized by law for religious instruction and during other school periods will conduct their classes as they should as public school teachers. The children will attend such classes in the same manner as the law now prescribes, i.e., with the written approval of their parents or guardians submitted to the principal teacher. No pupil will be required to attend such instruction against their conscience. Full liberty for the individual pupil and parents is guaranteed by the provisions of the proposed legislation. The Bill also provides for disciplinary action to be taken against anyone who abuses this right to teach religion so as to do harm to the pupils, the discipline of the school, or for arousing disloyalty to the Philippines. Finally, we note that every religious sect which wishes to do so may take advantage of the proposed legislation; no religious group is favored by the law; it is not discriminatory legislation.
Long ago Pius XI, of Sacred memory, in his encyclical on Christian Education insisted on the inalienable right as well as the indispensable duty of the Church, “to watch over the entire education of her children, in all institutions, public or private, not merely in regard to the religious instruction there given, but in regard to every other branch of learning and every regulation in so far as religion and morality are concerned. “And as he pointed out, the exercise of this right should not be considered undue interference but rather maternal care on the part of the Church in protecting her children from the grave danger of all kinds of doctrinal and moral evil.” From the proper exercise of this maternal care the State not only does not suffer but rather profits immensely since it helps to the right ordering and well-being of families and the whole of civil societies by “keeping far away from the youth of the land the moral poison which at that inexperienced and changeable age more easily penetrates the mind and more rapidly spreads its baneful effects.”
If we allow our youth to pass through their school years without religious instruction we will find verified again to our sorrow what Leo XII pointed out long ago: “without proper religious and moral instruction every form of intellectual culture will be injurious; for young people not accustomed to respect God, will be unable to bear the restraint of a virtuous life, and never having learned to deny themselves anything, they will be easily incited to disturb the public order.”
What Catholic father or mother in our dear land, indeed what Christian, would not want their child to be educated in a school that reflects the Christian values so cherished in the home? How can anyone object the youth of the land being taught their creation by God, their redemption by Christ, their being elevated to the dignity of adopted Sons of the all-loving Triune God? Or being inspired to imitate the Holy Family at Nazareth, with Jesus, Mary and Joseph as models by which to fashion their lives? Or being introduced to the Sacramental system wherein they encounter God through Christ in their baptism, confirmation, in the confessional, and above all, in the loving gift of Himself in the Eucharist? Who will deny them an opportunity to study the life of Christ and, as their minds slowly mature, to gradually assimilate the lessons that were taught by Him who was and is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Who came that we may have life and have it more abundantly? In a world torn by hatred, who will prevent the children from learning the great commandment of Christ: “that you love one another, as I have loved you? And to see how He Himself proved His love by reflecting on His words and above all His deeds during the years of school when a child is most susceptible to ideals and moved by good example? How can any education be judged complete if it ignores the main point of our existence: “Now this is eternal life: That they may know Thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou has sent.” (Jo 17,3). Who would be so pagan, so un-Christian as to forbid or prevent our dear youth from learning the doctrine that Christ came on earth to teach and sanctified by His Passion and Death? Who would prevent His Church from carrying out the divine mandate to go and teach all nations whatsoever He had commanded? Would not such a person be flying in the very face of God? Would he not be the enemy of his own people, thwarting the will of the great majority of our dear Catholic parents who desire this training for their children as we know from our nation-wide contacts and reports, from our parish priests and Catholic laity who speak for the far flung barrios and towns of our nation?
In the Civil Code of the Philippines we read that “The family is a basic social institution which public policy cherishes and protects” (art. 216). We are proud of our strong family ties and we almost instinctively favor anything that fosters and protects the family. Obedience of the children to the parents, their love and respect for them are things that we consider sacred and basic to our whole cultural pattern and way of life. Who does not see how these virtues and values are reinforced, made stronger and more meaningful, when learned in a classroom where the life of Christ and His long hidden years of obedience and love and respect at Nazareth are studied and presented as a model to our youth? What greater force for good could they find than to be instructed in the things that pertain to their soul, to their eternal salvation, in the ways of the commandments, of prayer and of grace?
We are saddened to find that there are some who say that they are Christians and yet would keep Christ out of the schools. They are trying to do what the enemies of the Church have always done–put every possible barrier between Christ and the young. When the Communists do it by open legislation or by subtle persecution we are not surprised. They are avowedly atheistic and materialistic. But when Christians do it we fail to understand how they could ever come to such a position. For to interfere or nullify the wish of the parents that their children be given religious instruction in the schools is to go against a right of the parents, the right to have their children instructed according to the conscience of the parents. Long ago this was clarified by Leo XIII when he declared that “By nature parents have a right to the training of their children, but with this added duty that the education and instruction of the child be in accord with the end for which by God’s blessing it was begotten. Therefore, it is the duty of the parents to make every effort to prevent any invasion of their rights in this matter and to make absolutely sure that the education of their children remains under their own control in keeping with their Christian duty, and above all to refuse to send them to those schools in which there is danger of imbibing the deadly poison of impiety.” And what greater impiety, what greater poison than to be educated in a school where God is treated as an extra-curricular activity, where religion is something to be merely tolerated, even to be ignored, for which there is no time? There is nothing more deadly in its effect on the mind of the children and nothing more opposed to the wish and obligation in conscience of our dear Catholic parents.
This prior right of the parents to decide the education of their children, a right granted by nature and anteceding the right of the state, is now enshrined in the United Nations Bill of Human Rights, Article 26 which reads, in part: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” In his most famous encyclical, Pacem in Terris, John XXIII, of happy memory, insisted that the family is “the first and essential cell of human society. To it must be given, therefore, every consideration of an economic, social, cultural and moral nature which will strengthen its stability and facilitate the fulfillment of its specific mission. Parents, however, have a prior right in the support and education of their children.” Today, outside of the totalitarian nations, no one could argue with this doctrine by denying the prior right of the parents. And it is very clear to all how this doctrine fits in perfectly with our constitutions and our whole democratic way of life because the Law of the land considers the family a “basic social institution which public policy cherishes and protects” and it assigns the duty of education primarily to the parents (Art. 316: Civil Code). When the Catholic parents insist that the education of their children be carried out according to their wishes they are insisting on a basic right, a right that is enshrined in the law of our land, a right that is so basic that no subsequent legislation can ever contravene it or, in doubt, be interpreted in such a way as to render that right null and void. And it is in accord with every democratic principle that the will of the overwhelming majority of the people, especially when it touches on such a basic right, must be honored and implemented by their legally elected representatives. To deny such a right to a clear majority because of the prejudice, bigotry and/or hatred of an articulate minority would be a flagrant violation of the most elemental rule of democracy, namely, that in case of a conflict of opinions, the will of the majority prevails. Anything else would lead, especially in this case, to a tyranny of the minority over the majority. The rights of the minority must be respected but not to the extent of violating the rights of an overwhelming majority. In this case of religious instruction the rights and feelings of the minority can easily be protected and the legislation proposed provides just such protection by including only those who wish to receive religious instruction. Anyone who claims that the minority will suffer by their legislation is speaking from ignorance or prejudice or both; he is not basing his arguments on the proposed legislation.
The arguments proposed against the legislation, if indeed they can be honored with the title of arguments, must needs sadden any true Christian. The enemies of the Church, completely repudiating all their previous ecumenical overtures and gestures of good will, rushed to the attack imputing to us the lowest motives and resurrecting the long dead anti-clerical shibboleths and fabrications that have been their stock in trade for more than half a century. Some, it is true, argued on the point of law that the proposed legislation was unconstitutional. But the opinion of outstanding legal luminaries, among them framers of the constitution or constitutional experts were sought and they firmly maintained that the legsilation as proposed passed the test of constitutionality. Experts have spoken and we can rely on their judgment.
Others brought forth the shopworn argument that religion is divisive, that children would be turned against one another on religious grounds, if such religious instruction were introduced into our public school system. If there were any merit to this argument, it would have been reinforced with evidence and statistics showing this divisiveness since religion has been taught on release-time schedule, actually at various hours of the day in our public schools for years and no one has ever raised the objection that it was dividing the children into warring groups, pitting one religion against another. Surely, if this argument had any merits the evidence to back it would have been available for one and all to see long ago. The truth is that a religion that teaches that all are made in the image and likeness of God, that the great commandment is love of our neighbor, that love of our enemies is imposed upon us–such a religion is exactly the opposite of divisive. A moment’s reflection will make this clear; surely the opponents of the bill on religious instruction cannot be serious in making such an objection that flies in the face of the facts.
Some went so far as to say that religious instruction could be of no avail in reforming or purifying or protecting morals and forestalling criminality since criminals are born and not made. Such crass determinism is beneath contempt in a Christian land such as ours. It flies in the face of our whole system of jurisprudence which supposes free will and guilt and personal responsibility. It is an insult to every father and mother who strive to protect their children from moral harm and create a home and an environment where virtue can grow and characters be molded by instruction and good example and, especially, by prayer and the sacramental life. Such effort would be meaningless and unintelligible, not to say downright foolish, if the child was already determined by his nature to be or not to be a criminal. No psychologists who profess to be Christians in any sense of the word could endorse such a crude materialistic approach to a human problem. Free will and the power to triumph over evil and rise above our environment is one of the basic tenets of our culture, our way of life and our Christian creed. We are free men who are used to fighting against typhoons and tyrants and temptations. We are not helpless marionnettes, mere puppets pre-determined by some capricious fate. We believe with St. Paul that by the power of God we can rise from any depths of sin to the surpassing glory of the children of God: “Our sins had made dead men of us, and God, in giving life to Christ, gave life to us too, it is His grace that has saved you; raised us up, and enthroned us too above the heavens, in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2, 5-7). Indeed, there is scarcely a passage in the Bible that does not suppose that man is free and responsible, that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead for their free actions as St. Matthew records for us in the twenty-fifth chapter of his Gospel.
Another objection was based on the fact that among prison inmates a high percentage of prisoners professed some religious creed. Therefore, the argument runs, religion is proven to be useless since so many of the criminals were members of one religious sect or other. Time and again this argument has been exposed for the fallacy that it is. In a prison, as anyone who took the time to investigate would know, it is to a prisoner’s advantage to list himself as a member of some religious sect or other. In such a situation even the most hardened criminal usually lists himself as a member of some sect in order that the humdrum routine of prison life might be broken by the few but treasured privileges that are connected with religious services. And investigation proves over and over again that nominal Christians are in the majority in prisons, men who had only a nodding acquaintance with religion, who came from broken homes, for the most part, who had scarcely a day of true religious instruction in their whole life. When this pitiful objection is raised against religious instruction we cannot help but wonder at the ignorance or the bad faith of those who offer it.
Speaking of prisons reminds us of the confusion created by those who would hold up the Godless Communist nations as examples of countries that have eliminated many public vices without the need of religious instruction. Anyone who visits a prison will readily see that many of the ordinary vices of life are eliminated. This might seem like virtue to a superficial observer but in reality he will find that worse vices are flourishing and festering, forced underground by the vigilance of the officials. A people that cannot purchase pornographic literature should be considered blessed but when the prohibition extends to any literature dealing with God, religion, Christianity, even with true freedom — then we say the price is too high and such people must be considered prisoners incapable of exercising their human freedom, unable to freely choose virtue, the victims of an intolerable tyranny. What seems to be a virtue, the elimination of certain more obvious public vices, is in reality a manifestation of a way of life unworthy to be called human. Per accidens some good comes from it but by its very nature it is foredoomed to beget even worse moral evil.
As we might have expected whenever the word religion is even mentioned, someone will stand up to warn us that we are endangering the separation of Church and State. To them the wall of separation between Church and State is to be a “Berlin Wall”, a proof of opposition , enmity and hatred, born of an essential opposition and antagonism. President Macapagal recently gave quite a different meaning to this so-called “wall”.
In Cebu on May 2nd, on the occasion of the Quadricentennial Celebration, President Macapagal warned against those who would pit the State and the Church against one another, and misconstruct acts of public officials as violations of the principle of separation of Church and State. The President recalled that Christ Himself recognized the existence of two distinct and separate societies, and he cited the words of Leo XIII urging a well ordered harmony between the two societies, harmony such as is had between the body and the soul of man. The President then concluded that “it is therefore to be expected that in this mutual harmony and mutual cooperation each should welcome from the other suggestions that would enable each to perform better its assigned task, especially on matters that affect their common interest such as public morality. This cooperation, harmony and dialogue in no way indicate that one is fused with the other.”
A wall can support two institutions; it can give strength to both of them. It can provide passage ways for mutual assistance and aid. And when the same people live on both sides of the “wall”, when the same people are the Catholics, Christians, and citizens any other interpretation is unintelligible; it would be pitting the people against themselves, penalizing them because of their religion, violating the Constitution and the Universal Bill of Human Rights. It should not be a “Berlin Wall” where families are torn asunder and an atmosphere of fear and hatred is created and deliberatively fostered. The separation of Church and State is an integral part of Catholic social doctrine. The State is a natural society, with a definite God-given role to play; the Church is a divine institution with its own unique and peculiar function. Both derive from God; both have their intrinsic nature and prerogatives; neither one can absorb the other nor interfere with the other; one looks to the temporal welfare of its citizens, the other, the Church is concerned with the eternal salvation of souls and with the temporal only in so far as it involves morality or relates to eternal values and religion. The Mother and Teacher of all nations does not want to absorb, dominate or rule but merely to fulfill her divine mandate to teach all nations.
And yet, very recently it was said that the Church is using the current bill on religious instruction as a means to “control sectarian education”. And it was boldly stated that “they must let the public schools alone because they are the domain of the state.” If left unqualified this has totalitarian overtones. The parents are excluded; their children must be handed over to the school authorities who will determine the entire school curriculum without consultation with or approval by the parents. Then, indeed, democracy will be dead. The will of the parents, their God-given right to control the education of their children will be but words, crushed under the boot of a new kind of dictator who will assign education to the domain of the State, to the complete exclusion of the parents, not to mention the Church. And what will be the norms followed by these self-chosen instructors who will rule the schools as their domain under the aegis of the State? What ideals will they present, what attitudes? Totalitarian? Communistic? Atheistic? Materialistic? No one shall be allowed to criticize or to dissent. Since they are so opposed to religious instruction we must conclude the worst and say that they ambition a Godless, materialistic education as the ideal, taught in a public school system under the absolute domain of the State with the parents contributing their children and deprived of any voice in the running of the schools. This may seem like an exaggerated picture but what else are we to think when such arguments are proposed by men who have been associated with the public school system for a lifetime and are also known as enemies of the Church? Are we to listen to such men when it comes to voting on a bill which merely aims at implementing a God-given right of the parents and to carry out the will of the majority? Whom should we listen to? The parents who wish their rights to be enacted into law or men who would take to see the rights of the parents violated just that their enmity against religion may be satisfied and their goal of a completely secular, Godless education may finally be achieved?
At one point a demonstration was “arranged” to show that the public school teachers themselves were in opposition to the proposed legislation. How can anyone take this seriously when we know that the vast majority of the teachers are themselves Catholic mothers and have time and again shown their willingness to cooperate with any such program. Our priests and lay leaders scattered throughout the nation are a better source of information on the matter than a handful of teachers mixed in with members of a fanatical sect who never miss a chance to oppose anything Catholic. Demonstrations manipulated for effect are not the evidence that intelligent people weigh when considering the pros and cons of such a measure. We should rather rely on hard facts than on emotional demonstrations that are so easily infiltrated. In this case we do have some facts that can not be ignored.
In May 1955, the President of the Philippine Association of School Superintendents and the President of the Philippine Public School Teachers Association issued the following joint statement:
- “The PASS and the PPSTA are for the full implementation of the optional religious instruction in the Philippine public shools as provided for in the Constitution. The superintendents in convention last May in Baguio, expressed the following beliefs as regards optional religious instruction:
- That the curriculum on moral and character education has to be strengthened;
- That religion is a potent factor in the development of morality and character; … “
The mind of the Superintendents and the President representing the Public School Teachers is certainly clear: they esteem the role that religion plays in the total educational process. Anyone who says that such spokesmen for the teachers are against the Cuenco Bill has the burden of the proof. And we believe that it is obvious to all that a quickly organized rally is no such proof.
That this minority sect which thrives on anti-Catholicism should be so vociferous in opposing the bill on religious instruction should not surprise anyone. Having so few members and having so little positive doctrine to present they would indeed find no advantage in the bill. But it is surprising that some politicians are prone to fear their threats or reprisal at the polls. This is based on a legend which, if true, would mean that this minority sect has abandoned the traditional doctrine of separation of Church and State and wants to dominate the halls of Congress and dictate the votes of our legislators through threats. Their alleged ability to control the votes of their members would make them more of a political party than a true religious sect. But whatever their true political or religious status we cannot allow a minority that thrives on hatred of things Catholic to make us second class citizens in our own land, to make our religion a handicap to us, something to be insulted at every turn. We cannot allow them, no matter how vociferous they are, to dictate a policy that will affect the education for life and for eternity of our 8 million children in public schools. When it is a question of the basic right of the parents to decide the curriculum of their own children in the public school system which they maintain by their taxes, no belligerent minority can claim a right to have the final word. The rights of a minority must be protected but not in such a way that the basic rights of the majority are grossly violated or ignored. This would not be democracy but that tyranny of the minority that we referred to above.
Finally, some have said that the extra burden of teaching religion would be unfair, unjust to our public school teachers. We are the last ones who would wish to impose any further burdens on the public school teachers whom we admire and esteem so much. But the problem can be solved; where there is a will there is a way. And here we insist that it is a question of a right of the parents which is to be carried out by the State as the agent of the parents. When the parents endorse such a program, they will that their public representatives choose the best means to implement the will of the parents. And the teachers should not suffer in any way. In fact, We the Bishops endorse every endeavor to ameliorate the financial status of the teachers, since we consider their profession to be a most important work for the nation and hence, deserving of a correspondingly better economic or financial reward.
In this year of the Lord 1965, when the Philippines is the center of worldwide attention through the quadricentennial celebration of the Christianization of our dear land, how will we appear before the world if our legislators in the Senate fail to pass this bill which was endorsed by an overwhelming majority of the Congressmen? What explanation can be given for condemning religion to the status of an inferior subject in our public schools? Can we appeal to an anti-clerical past, to an era dominated by enemies of the Catholic Church, a breed which, fortunately, has now almost disappeared from our midst? Shall we live as though the changes of the past fifty years never took place? or shall we open the way to a true “aggiornamento” when the rights of our parents and their sacred wishes are honored in word and in deed!
This year 1965 has all the sign of being a year of decision for our Fatherland which is not only Christian nation in Asia but is now almost an oasis of democracy in a fast worsening international situation. The roar of jets and the thunder of guns is just over the horizon. The more insidious threat of infiltration and the struggle for men’s minds is closer than the horizon; it is right here in our midst. This is truly a cause for alarm; it is a time to think and a time to reflect and a time to act. What better protection for the minds and souls of our youth in its confrontation with an ideology which is based on atheistic materialism than the knowledge of their faith and their religion! The knowledge of their Church which is the greatest single force in the world opposed to all the evils that are summed up by that one word–Communism! Who would deny this aid to our Fatherland in its hour of peril, in an hour when we are taking our stand with the Free World in what well may be the last struggle for freedom in Asia? When the war is a religious war against atheism and materialism, is it not the height of folly to refuse to teach religion in the best possible way, to reach the greatest number, through our public school system? It would be depriving ourselves of our greatest weapon in the hour of our worst peril! Wittingly or unwittingly, whoever opposes this bill is guilty of giving aid and comfort to the most insidious enemy this land ever faced!
Our beloved Pontiff Paul VI, in a sermon given in 1961 said: “It is necessary to remake Christian society; it is necessary to reawaken it, to be aware that we are responsible! This is a frightening word… We are responsible for our times, for the life of our brothers, and we are responsible before our Christian conscience … before Christ, before the Church and before our history; we are responsible before the face of God.” This sermon was addressed to all of the people of God, to all of us who have been given the new commandment of love which impels us to share our spiritual treasurers with others, by professing our faith before men, by establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. All of us are called, but as happens from time to time in history, a moment comes when an individual or a small group suddenly finds within their hands the power to make a momentous decision that will affect the lives of millions for good or for evil, for time and for eternity.
Such an hour is the present one for the members of the Senate. When the world echoes with stories of almost unbelievable rises in crime rates, in divorce rates, in the amount of juvenile delinquency, when each country worries about its own beginnings of a breakdown in morality, at such a moment this Bill has been placed on the agenda of the Senate. Other nations are beginning to talk of a need to return to religion in education to prevent the complete breakdown of the family, the home, and society. We have seen reports of leading and highly respected doctors and psychiatrists abroad who are deeply concerned about the malaise that is spreading through society on almost every level. In the past century religion was separated from education, not only separated but ignored , even condemned. Educators and rulers sowed the wind and now they reap the whirlwind of crime and corruption. Now they stand aghast before the social evil which they spawned. Must our dear people pass through the same sad history before they learn the lesson that even non-Catholics are slowly realizing today? Will our legislators pass up this golden opportunity to apply to the ills of society a remedy which is at once so efficacious, so much in harmony with our aspirations, our ideals, our culture, our whole way of life? Shall we fail to do what other nations are now recognizing as their only way out of the moral chaos which is now threatening to engulf them? Our Legislators hold in their power the answer to our question which is also the question, even the plea of millions of our Catholic parents.
We, the members of the Catholic Hierarchy of the Philippines, conscious of the four century-old tradition of Christianity in our dear land, with a deep sense of our obligation to speak out as the representatives of the People of God at this unique moment of history, in a year of decision that might affect the very lives of all of us and the history of our land for the remainder of the century, if not longer, urgently insist on the need to pass this proposed legislation.
We rest our case on the intrinsic merits of religious instruction for the formation of the youth of our land, the leaders of the next generation, and on the fact that we speak for the overwhelming majority of the people of the land, for the Catholic parents who have the prior right to determine what kind of education their children shall receive. Justice and respect for this basic right of the parents demands that the will of the majority be respected. There must be no tyranny of the minority in this matter. Their rights are fully protected in the proposed legislation; it is by no means discriminatory legislation. Justice and democracy itselt demand that the will of the majority must prevail.
To facilitate the legislative procedure we also urgently recommend His Excellency, President Diosdado Macapagal, to certify the Bill to the Senate in its special session.
We close with a quotation from St. Pius XI who ended a letter on religious instruction by citing the words of Moses: “If any man be on the Lord’s side, let him join with me!” And we urge our beloved priests and people to join with us in prayers to the Holy Spirit during this Pentecostal season that God may inspire our chosen leaders to pass this Bill and thus bear witness themselves to their Faith and be at the same time true representatives of a Catholic people in a Catholic land.
We fervently desire all our Reverend Parish Priests to read this episcopal document at their Sunday Masses and to keep it in their archives.
Given in Manila, on the 6th day of June, 1965, on the Feast of Pentecost.
For the Catholic Hierarchy of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+JULIO R. ROSALES, D.D.
Archbishop of Cebu
President, CWO Administrative Council
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