Anti-Catholicism, 1898

ATTACKS and persecutions of the Catholic Church are not new or seldom. They are facts of daily life of Catholics in various parts of the world; even now as you read this article. This includes the United States as in Islamic countries. There are people and groups that make it their daily preoccupation to attack the Church and its doctrines. Many use violence and the “law” in their attempt to “kill” the Church. They perhaps believe that by attacking the Church they will gain adherents or that the Church will simply collapse and they will have the field all their own, to do their thing without a critical voice.

Well, for two thousand years these attackers and their latter-day followers have tried with all sorts of means and gimmicks, but the Church has remained steadfast in her faith and in obedience to her Founder. It is, in fact, strong and growing despite the unfaithfulness and even betrayal of many of its leaders. Indeed, many anti-Catholic movements were initiated by apostate and heretical clergymen and lay leaders of the Catholic faith. But Christ, the Founder had told the faithful, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” And so it has been, and so it will be.

The history of the Church in the Philippines is full of incidents of anti-Catholicism, but this is the first time that the highest leader of the country did not only attack the Church but God as well. What will God do, we leave that to Him. But what we can do, depends on each one under the guidance of the Church leaders.

However, the tirades and animosity shown by President Duterte can embolden his followers to be anti-Catholics and cause harm to Catholics and to the Church as already being shown by the killing of priests. On Tuesday a “deranged” man entered the Archbishop of Cebu palace with intent to kill and was killed in a shoot-out. Was he somehow “inspired”, thinking, disoriented as it might be, that bishops are also open targets?

The history of the Philippines is replete with animosities against the Catholic Church but the most massive was in the aftermath of the revolution of 1898 when the Spanish forces surrendered and left the priests defenseless. It was as if the gates of hell was unleashed against the Church. Priests were imprisoned, shamed, tortured or killed. The revolutionary leader did not only look the other way but even encouraged or participated in this anti-Catholic rampage. Some Filipinos helped their pastors but they were few and powerless. Most kept their silence.

The Negros revolutionary leaders arrested the priests all over the island. Fr. Mariano Lasa of Isabela was forced to run behind a horse to which he was tied. In January 1899, 36 priests who were incarcerated in Bacolod were forced to march to La Granja in La Carlota where they were kept in a fertilizer warehouse and forced to do hard labor for almost a month. The intervention of the Pope saved them and they were shipped by a German ship to Manila. Others returned to Spain.

After the priests were arrested, the local governments confiscated church properties, including their incomes. Filipino priests were spared and they kept the local governments out of their parishes. But in 1903, after the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Aglipayan) church was established, the Filipino priests who joined the new sect, took over the parishes. The Church filed a case in the Supreme Court and in 1909, the Court ordered the return of all Church properties. Some did, others did not until today.

The anti-Catholicism naturally spawned an anti-God frenzy. Holy images were mutilated, destroyed, burned, buried or thrown away. One evidence of this sacrilege was a two-feet crucifix that was used as chopping block in E. B. Magalona. The Museum of Mutilated Images at the parish church in Sum-ag tells the various forms of mutilation.

The atmosphere of anti-Catholicism caused the murder of Recollect Fr. Victor Baltanas in Escalante. The brothers Gamao could not accept the Supreme Court decision ordering the return of Church properties. One evening they entered the convent and hacked the priest and left him for dead, The priest died from bleeding. Local officials tried to cover up but the case reached Manila. The brothers were sentenced to life imprisonment.

In Pontevedra, the Mill Hill parish priest guarded the processions packing a .45-caliber pistol.

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