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The Ateneo affair

I concede.. It is not LIKE  the Galileo affair of the 1600s but it is notable since this is beginning to look like the first major Church vs. secularism tiff in almost 60 years in PH. And like the Galileo affair this present one involves Jesuits and Roman bishops in high and low places, or better yet in all SORTS of PLACES!

Jesuits always find themselves in the darndest places! And like the Inquisition's missing out of the truth of Eppur si Muove, the Roman bishops fall into the same old trap!

I am referring to Jesuit padre, renowned atmospheric scientist and Ateneo de Manila's President Fr Jett Villarin and his official statement adhering to official Church teaching and how it situates Ateneo's professors who don't agree with the Church on the issue King's  Great Matter. Prof Randy David comments most interestingly on the issue not by rehashing and flogging the anti vs pro RH debate but by commenting on academic freedom in a Catholic affiliated university.

Most interestingly Prof David compares the country's two top universities one de jure secular, University of the Philippines (UP) and the other de facto secular, the Ateneo de Manila. While it is true that the two universities are almost mirror images of each other on social issues (aside from being across Katipunan Road), there are some major differences. The differences reflect how the university is governed. UP has a University Council which is composed of all professors and is the only one that has the power to determine academic policy. Ateneo on the other hand does not have this but has a faculty forum where the administration seeks faculty opinion but the forum does not have policy making powers. The Council by its very nature is the voice of the university.

The Council serves as a debating chamber for some contentious issues (mainly academic and administrative in nature) but unlike the legislature is not adversarial. Decisions are arrived at by consensus and in a collegial manner. Sometimes the debate takes on a Trollopian nature. Since the Chancellor chairs the council he/she would have to agree on any statement the Council issues. RH is a non issue in UP as compared to say election rigging but any statement released is assumed to be what the professors think.

The 192 Ateneo professors came out with a pro RH statement but took pains to say that this was their own position and not the Ateneo's. True but it misses out on the whole medieval idea that the university is not the president/rector or the trustees or the clergy but the professors and the students. Whatever Ateneo declares publicly the fact is that the university's position is contrary to Church standing on the issue. As of this writing the duly constituted representatives of the students, the Ateneo Sanggunian has released a pro RH statement in support of the professors.

Professors and students share academic freedom guarantees but of different natures. Professors teach freely and students are expected to freely learn all within the ambit of reason. We have to remember that academic freedom exists only in the university and not in the Senate or the House or in the Palace. Unlike patriotism, academic freedom cannot be the last refuge of the scoundrel and definitely not for the plagiarist. You have the Senate for that!

Such liberty demands responsibility that the courts defer to the universities in cases involving academic misconduct. The civil power defers and the same is expected for the spiritual power. The Church has traditionally given the universities under its wing a large space for academic freedom something that the present Pope enjoyed as a student and as a young professor.

Thus the bishops have been given traditional rights of visitation but hardly did that except during graduation. The universities were left on their own, to educate the young and to collect fees. John Paul II's papal constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae give more legal teeth to the local bishop and reiterated the Church's right to licence theologian professors (which it always had since medieval times) and discipline them by revoking their licenses but the Church cannot kick out a professor or remove the faculty of a professor to teach. Famous dissenter Fr Hans Kung lost his licence to teach Catholic theology but his university just moved his chair to the ecumenical theology department!   That is for the university alone. And so John Paul II's Ex Corde Ecclesiae reads more like a papal request or exhortation rather than one that threatens fire and brimstone to dissenters. Fr Villarin is in this pastoral mode in his official statement.

But in the case of the Ateneo, the bishops should have tread more carefully like what the Vatican does. The Vatican does not blurt out any statement of excommunication nowadays unless an act is really excommunicable and that has often been in the clergy department such as when a bishop defies the Pope.

Not with the CBCP. One bishop threatened the Ateneo with canonical sanctions which the press picked up as "excommunication"!  Oh the costs of a Sin less Philippine Church! And this generated reaction from op ed columnists like Conrad de Quiros who dragged up the "Dark Ages" from the cabinet of stereotypes. Poor Galileo, he is in it!

I pity poor Pope Benedict XVI, the most intellectually engaged pope and the most charitable one in recent centuries. I believe he will wince when he hears of what is happening.

And this at a time when reason had practically imploded in the anti RH camp only to end up with a turno et contra that was lifted from a healthy Home Economist. And the honourable senator wouldn't do a turno et contra from this act of intellectual piracy!

Some Catholics whom I have spoken to have diagnosed the problem. The Philippine Roman Catholic Church has become more anti intellectual than it was thirty years ago and that has to change. This theory may answer Prof. David's astonishment on the local Church's reaction  Here is where we find the Ateneo de Manila University today.


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