The Lent of no repentance



Gemma Cruz Araneta Gemma Cruz Araneta

A hundred and fifty-two years after Magellan arrived, during the Season of Repentance (Cuaresma or Lent), the Sword and Cross were still battling for hegemony, before the eyes of bewildered natives.   A protagonist of the drama was  Don Geronimo de Herrera, chief chaplain of the Capilla de la Encarnacion,  the parish of the Infantry in these Islands. Here is the rest of the “cast of characters”: (1) The provisor and schoolmaster of the Cathedral, Fray  Don Francisco Pizarro, (2) Fray Don Juan Lopez, bishop of Cebu and  archbishop-elect and administrator prelate of Manila, (3) The Governor-General, Don Manuel de Leon, (4) Don Sebastian de Morales, notary,  (5) a clutch of witnesses from the Infantry, (6) Cathedral Chapter Dean Don Diego de Carthagena, (7) Royal Clerk of the Royal Audiencia, Capitan Nicolas, (9) a group of religious superiors and ecclesiastical experts of Manila.

Fray Don Geronimo de Herrera, chief chaplain of the Capilla de la Encarnacion, was reputed  to be  the protegee of Governor-General Don Manuel de Leon; the Palacio was his favorite haunt. Before Lent, the chaplain issued an order to all Spanish soldiers that instead of fulfilling their religious obligations at the Manila Cathedral, they should do so at the Capilla de la Encarnacion ( located at the Plaza de Armas of Fort Santiago). He declared that the Capilla was the  designated place for marriages, baptisms, confessions, and Lenten obligations of the soldiers, their families, and servants. To drive the point home,  the chaplain removed the tomb of an ex-governor to make way for  a splendid baptistry. He also ordered soldiers to give tithes and contributions  to the Capilla,   not to the Manila Cathedral.

As the Lenten season began  in 1673 ( March to 2 April), Chaplain Geronimo de Herrera reminded all infantrymen to comply with their religious obligations at the Capilla de Encarnacion. He warned that “certificates of compliance” from any other church, including the Manila Cathedral, would  be considered invalid. Before Herrera’s stern dictum,  soldiers could go to the churches of their choice  and after the first Sunday of Easter, take all the “cedulas of compliance” to the chaplain for verification and delivery to the cathedral. Some infantrymen were puzzled by the new directive, so they asked  the cathedral for clarification. Immediately, the matter was brought to the attention of the  archbishop-elect, Fray Don Juan Lopez, who was informed that  his  predecessor did  concede  to the requests of the chief chaplain,  but with limitations.

To prevent  a scandal during the Season of Repentance (Lent), the cathedral proviso, Fray Don Francisco Pizarro,  asked the chaplain to reconsider. As expected, the latter refused and  insisted that the Capilla de la Encarnacion  being a royal chapel, its parish priest (himself)  can  oblige the infantrymen, their spouses, children, and servants to receive the Sacraments and perform their Lenten obligations at the Encarnacion. Moreover, he declared that  the “cedulas of compliance” will no longer be submitted to the  cathedral because that would be prejudicial to his jurisdiction as chaplain of the infantry. He added that all chief chaplains of all royal chapels  in the Spanish empire enjoy the said jurisdiction because His Majesty is the Pope’s Vicar General in territories where the king maintains and pays for the army. He cannot be compelled to turn in “cedulas of compliance” or “confession certificates” because he is not a subject of ordinarial ecclesiastical jurisdiction; he threatened to seek royal assistance and claimed that his authority emanated  from no less than the  Patronato Real.

0n 10 April  1673, after Whitsunday, the cathedral parish priest instructed the  notary, Don Sebastian Morales, to deliver an order to Chaplain Herrera threatening him with excommunication. The chaplain did not kill the messenger, but unceremoniously threw him  out. After three days, Chaplain Herrera was excommunicated and  notices were posted on  all church doors. Embarrassed but not unfazed,  he established a public court in his residene, complete with civil and religious personalities. Every afternoon,  pompously riding  a  carriage,he would go straight to the  governor general’s   residence in Pasay, as if to remind  everyone of his influence and privileged position.

He mocked the excommunication order by going around parishes blessing sacred vessels, giving sermons,  and performing ecclesiastical acts beyond his jurisdiction. With overflowing hubris, Chaplain Herrera demanded that  the archbishop-elect  remove the notices about his excommunication, lest he himself excommunicate the archbishop-elect.  Needless to say, when his letter was leaked,the public was scandalized.

Arch-elect Lopez rallied to his side all the superiors of religious orders and ecclesiastical experts of the city.  On the 241h of April , he invited  them to a meeting to discuss the position of  Chaplain Herrera. Several issues had to be resolved;  for example, in the past, when the Holy See granted ordinarial and episcopal exemptions to military vicars, did that extend to chief chaplains?  Should the archbishop sanction Chaplain Herrera for the changes he made unilaterally?  Did  the exemptions given by  the Holy See to military vicars include chaplains? Can Fray Herrera  issue directives against the archbishop and the provisor?

Believe it or not, the Jesuits found a way of aborting that meeting, at the behest of the  recalcitrant chaplain.  They proposed  that the matter be sent to   the Royal Audiencia. Of course, the governor-General agreed. Moreover, he requested that   the Chaplain’s  excommunication  be suspended for 60 days.

The Audiencia shook the dust off various royal decrees vintage  1632 and 1645  that were,in the past, invoked to settle similar issues.  The Royal Audiencia declared that the chaplain was not a military vicar general. The Capilla de la  Encarnacion, though a parish for soldiers, was not a royal chapel entitled to privileges and exemptions. The chief chaplain was definitely under the ordinarial jurisdiction of the cathedral and the archbishop of Manila. It was a resounding defeat.

Those turf wars  stemmed from the  vanity and greed of human beings who came to conquer in the name of God and King. What could the native converts, our ancestors,  have thought about such unchristian behavior in the throes of the   season of repentance?