Saturday, April 25, 2009

FAQs on church heritage conservation in the Philippines

The Heritage Conservation Society hosted a second lecture on church heritage conservation at the Museo ng Maynila today. Speaker was Fr. Milan Ted D. Torralba, canon lawyer and heritage advocate.

There have been several pontifical statements on the importance of church heritage conservation. Pope John Paul II, in his motu proprio Apostolic Letter Inde a Pontificatus Nostri (25 March 1993) says, “Indeed, by its very nature, faith tends to express itself in artistic forms and historical testimony having an intrinsic evangelizing power and cultural value, to which the Church is called to pay the greatest attention.”

Fr. Ted points out that among the underlying causes for the depreciation of Philippine ecclesiastical cultural heritage are (1) misinterpretation of Vatican II or misreading of the objective intent of the Council Fathers that led to confusion, neglect, miseducation; (2) McDonaldification or Disneyfication of the Filipino; and (3) the mystification of tourism as end-all and be-all ("The falsification of authenticity in favour of tourism is a very serious issue." - Richard Engelhardt, 31 March 2008)

In his lecture, Fr. Ted quotes Czech historian Milan Hübl, “The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture new culture, invent a new history. Before long, the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.”

Fr. Ted mentions that a Filipino Jesuit priest once asked, “Why preserve or restore Philippine colonial churches when these are symbols of oppression, inequality, and injustice?” So here are some FAQs of church heritage conservation on the side of the Roman Catholic Church which I lifted from his presentation (with his permission of course) and my comments in parenthesis:

What is the cultural heritage of the Church?
The cultural heritage of the Church is that essential part of her religious patrimony or legacy handed down from its very source and summit, Jesus Christ, to which such heritage is directed.

Its pastoral function is to serve the Church of Christ as effective means of catechizing and evangelizing, as affective instruments of fomenting the sense of the Last Things. In a sense and to a certain degree, it is (quasi-)sacramental and ecclesial.

Who are accountable for Philippine ecclesiastical cultural heritage?
1. The Roman Pontiff, by virtue of his primacy of governance, is the supreme administrator and steward of all ecclesiastical goods (Can. 1273)
2. Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church
Art. 99 – The Commission has the duty of acting as curator for the artistic and historical patrimony of the whole Church.
Art. 102 – The Commission lends its assistance to particular Churches and Bishops’ Conferences and together with them, where the case arises, sees to the setting up of museums, archives, and libraries, and ensures that the entire patrimony of art and history in the whole territory is properly collected and safeguarded and made available to all who have an interest in it.
Art. 103 – In consultation with the Congregation for Seminaries and Educational Institutions and the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, the Commission has the task of striving to make the People of God more and more aware of the need and importance of conserving the artistic and historical patrimony of the Church (Apost. Const. Pastor Bonus, 20 XI 1992)
3. Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is the permanent organizational assembly of the bishops in the Philippines exercising together certain pastoral offices for the Christian faithful of their territory through apostolic plans, programs and projects suited to the circumstances of time and place in accordance with law for the promotion of the greater good offered by the Church to all people (cf. Can. 447; Vatican II, Christus Dominus, No. 38, 1; John Paul II, Apostolos Suos, No. 14).

What is the role of the CBCP Permanent Committee for the Cultural Heritage of the Church?
The Permanent Committee for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, according to Sec. 10 of the By-Laws in the CBCP Statutes (21 October 2000), shall:
1. Promote the cultural heritage of the Church as an invaluable aid to evangelization and catechesis
2. Foment research on and understanding of the ecclesiastical cultural heritage
3. Serve as a consultative body on the scientific conservation of cultural ecclesiastical goods
4. Initiate and sustain collaboration between the Committee and similar government and/or civic agencies involved in the care, conservation and appreciation of the cultural heritage of the Church
5. Act as official liaison with the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church in the Apostolic See
6. Undertake projects in different dioceses or prelatures upon invitation or authorization of, and collaboration with, the ordinaries (bishops) concerned.

Can the CBCP reprimand, or even call the attention of, bishops and/or priests who are perceived to have neglected the care of the ecclesiastical cultural heritage? Can the CBCP order the immediate stoppage or termination of renovations of ecclesiastical heritage structures presently on-going in the dioceses and parishes in the Philippines?
No (Please see the related question below on the process of filing legitimate complaints with the Roman Catholic Church. Note that you can also file cases in the proper courts based on the laws of the Republic of the Philippines since all colonial churches are at the minimum, declared by the National Historical Institute as Classified Historic Structures under NHI Resolution No. 3, 22 October 1991. That's if the priest and the bishop don't scare the judge into believing that Saint Peter won't let them in Heaven if they decide against the Church. Article 428 of the New Civil Code provides that "the right of an owner over his property is not absolute but is subject to certain limitations established by law")

Can the CBCP create a comprehensive list of all heritage churches in the Philippines in aid of information?
A qualified yes (I hope the CBCP starts this list)

Can the CBCP Plenary Assembly empower its Permanent Committee for the Cultural Heritage of the Church by giving it the sole authority to approve any restoration, construction or further improvements of heritage churches, and by granting it the mandate to order the stoppage of any restoration, construction or further improvement that it deems damaging to a heritage church?
No

Who then has the final say on the proper care of the cultural heritage of the particular churches in the Philippines?
The diocesan bishop who will base his episcopal decisions on Canon Law governing the proper care and wise use of the ecclesiastical cultural goods of his particular church, and on concrete pastoral exigencies circumscribed by time and place.

And so, if there are legitimate complaints against the judgment or decision of a priest or the diocesan bishop as regards the care of the ecclesiastical cultural heritage in his own particular church, to whom can the said complaints be lodged?
1. Against the decision or action of a parish priest, first to the parish priest. Otherwise, appeal and recourse be lodged with the diocesan bishop (When you write a letter to the bishop, make sure you are able to say everything in one page. More than one page will not be effective)
2. Appeal against the judgment or decision of the diocesan bishop should be lodged with the authority placing such judgment or decision, which is the diocesan bishop himself.
3. Hierarchical recourse against the decision or action of the diocesan bishop can be brought before the metropolitan (or archbishop) of the ecclesiastical province, or directly to the Holy See (You can copy furnish your complaints to H.E. Msgr. Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, Via della Conciliazione 5-7, Rome, Italy 00193, fax no. +39 0669884621, or e-mail address pcbcc@pcchc.va)

What now then is the role of the CBCP in protecting and curating the ecclesiastical cultural heritage of the local Church in the Philippines?
1. The CBCP can gently remind the bishops of the universal canonical legislation on the care of the ecclesiastical cultural heritage as a pastoral service assisting them in this emergent apostolic action of the Church that does hold a primary priority.
2. The CBCP, through its Permanent Committee, assists the diocesan bishops in their task of superintending the ecclesiastical cultural heritage in their respective sees by promoting the work of their diocesan commissions for church heritage thereby helping these to assume their proper obligations on heritage care and utilization.
3. The CBCP promotes awareness, sensitivity, appreciation, and valorisation of the ecclesiastical cultural heritage by precisely advancing and supporting the non-formal formation activities of its Permanent Committee expressed through the conduct of the biennial national conventions, regional fora, symposia, and such like settings, and the publication of its journal on cultural heritage studies, the Pintacasi.
4. The CBCP can formulate complementary norms (local canonical legislation), manuals, policies, or guidelines to govern the proper care of the cultural heritage of the particular church in the Philippines. The initiative began with the International Agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of the Philippines on the Cultural Heritage of the Catholic Church in the Philippines signed on 17 April 2007 and which entered into full force on 29 May 2008, following the exchange of the instruments of ratification.

What is the philosophy behind of Ecclesiastical Cultural Heritage Management?
We conserve heritage – ensuring its security from theft, survival from disaster, and safety from mishandling – for the primordial purpose of maintaining and perpetuating its faith (religious/theological) significance by which such heritage is valued.

The connecting line that links the artistic-cultural processes of Christian inspiration and Faith itself is the reference to Jesus Christ. He is culmen et fons (culmination and source) of all heritage of the Church.
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