Joint Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Hierarchy on Religious Instruction in Public Schools

There has recently been brought to Our attention evidence of the most serious kind that the Secretary of Education, Mr. Cecilio Putong, the Director of Public Schools, Mr. Benito Pangilinan, and the Assistant Director of Public Schools, Mr. Venancio Trinidad, have been, since 1949, members of a secret Committee for the Elimination of Religious Instruction in Public Schools, organized by the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippine Islands. This is not the first time that We have noted in certain public officials what seems to be a deliberate policy to neglect, and even to obstruct, the constitutional guarantee that “optional religious instruction shall be maintained in public schools as now authorized by law” (Article XIV, Section 5). For this reason We indicated to the members of Catholic Action, in Our last joint pastoral letter, that “the Hierarchy as a body gives its full and hearty support to whatever sane and constructive efforts they may make to defend the constitutional rights of our Catholic parents in regard to the moral and religious education of their children who attend public schools” (Joint Pastoral Letter of January 29, 1953).

The Facts

Among these “sane and constructive efforts” were the resolutions recently passed by several Catholic Action organizations respectfully requesting the Executive Branch of our Government to inquire into the accuracy of the report regarding the existence, membership and activities of the said Masonic Committee for the Elimination of Religious Instruction in Public Schools.

Unfortunately, no cognizance was taken of this reasonable petition. On the contrary, it was on this precise occasion that the public press announced the possible promotion of Mr. Pangilinan to the post of Undersecretary of Education, a post that had been kept vacant for over a year. As soon as this news came to the knowledge of the Chairman of Our Episcopal Commission on Education and Religious Instruction, the Most Rev. Mariano Madriaga, D.D., Bishop of Lingayen, wrote a letter to His Excellency the President which had Our complete approval. In this letter, Bishop Madriaga represented with all due respect that the proposed appointment could, and almost certainly would be interpreted as a deliberate refusal to take into consideration “the legitimate views and desires of the Catholic people of the Philippines.” We may add that not Catholics alone, but all Filipino citizens regardless of their religious affiliation should have an equal interest in assuring themselves that the educational policy of this country is administered by persons of proved loyalty to our Constitution and laws. All Filipino citizens have an equal right to demand that public officials who seem to have no scruples about entering into secret agreements to render a constitutional provision ineffective while outwardly paying lip-service to it be at once removed from positions of public trust.

We regret to inform you that although this letter, accompanied by the documentary evidence published by The Sentinel (the official Catholic organ) was personally delivered to, and was read by His Excellency the President as early as February 11, no official reply has so far been received. On the contrary, the appointment of Mr. Pangilinan to the post of Undersecretary of Education was actually made.

The Issue

Holy Scripture says that there is “a time to keep silence,. and a time to speak” (Eccles. iii, 7).

On several occasions in the past We have received complaints from local pastors and catechists regarding the lack of cooperation and downright hostility with which many public school officials have met their efforts to provide religious instruction for the children of parents who have asked for it. We would have been fully justified in protesting such obstructionism, but we held our peace. Now, however, we are confronted with a situation in which the influence on the country’s educational system of certain highly-placed officials, and, through them, of a secret society noted for its implacable hatred of the Catholic Faith, threatens to render completely inoperative – to eliminate – a God-given right guaranteed by our Constitution; the right, namely, of all parents to have their children instructed in the religion of their choice. Silence in the face of such threat would be a grave dereliction of duty. We have kept silent long enough. It is time to speak.

Directives for Catholic Action

Many of you, individually as well as in your capacity as officers, advisers or members of Catholic Action organizations, have asked Us to indicate how you can best contribute to the settlement of the grave question raised by these events. After giving the matter due consideration, and having sought the divine assistance in earnest prayer, We think it proper to make the following suggestions for your guidance.

In the first place, let there be no misunderstanding as to the precise point at issue. We Catholics seek no special privileges for ourselves or for our children in this matter of religious instruction. We merely wish to ensure that the optional religious instruction now authorized by law should be sincerely, seriously and effectively promoted, without evasion or mental reservation, by the officials entrusted with the administration of public schools. This is our right, not as Catholics but as citizens; a right which is shared equally by all the parents of this Republic, no matter what their religious persuasion may be.

Secondly, We do not consider mere protestations of loyalty to the Constitution, nor mere plans for the implementation of its provisions – plans hastily assembled for propaganda purposes, without existence in reality – to be sufficient proof of fitness for administrative office in the vital field of education. We must examine not words, not plans, but facts. The documentary evidence of the membership of the three highest officials of our educational system in a secret Committee for the Elimination of Religious Instruction in Public Schools is a fact. Let that fact, then, be examined; let its implications be studied; let its consequences be weighed . Let us not be drawn away from that fact by fine words and red herring. A basic right of all citizens has been placed in jeopardy; let no personal or party considerations stand in the way of its defense.

Thirdly, because our object is to safeguard a civic right, it follows that we may use all the means whereby the citizens of a democracy, in whom the basic power of the state resides, seek to impress their will upon their government. You will, therefore, be perfectly justified in taking up this matter, both individually and as organizations, with your elected representatives in Congress. You may, if you think it proper, propose that a Congressional inquiry be made into the implementation of the laws regarding religious instruction by the three officials mentioned above, pending the results of which investigation in the confirmation of Mr. Pangilinan’s appointment should be suspended.

We must caution you, however, to keep this civic campaign clear of partisan politics. The enemies of religious instruction will doubtless seek to confuse the issue by involving it in extraneous, purely political considerations. Indeed, they have already begun to do so. You must not allow yourselves or the Church to be drawn into such controversies. The cause you serve is above all party questions and conflicts, for it concerns a basic right; a right, therefore, which all the citizens of this Republic, irrespective of party affiliations, can and should unite to maintain.

What is At Stake

We can think of no work more pleasing to God or more vital to the welfare and safety of our country than this campaign. We see all around us today the deplorable consequences of excluding religion from the national life in the name of a false liberalism, and of attempting to inculcate morality and civic efficiency in the youth to the exclusion of religious principle; the alarming increase of crime and juvenile delinquency, the sinful misuse of wealth, the oppression of the weak by the strong, and, working behind all these fatal weaknesses, exploiting them with preternatural cunning, the evil genius of atheistic Communism.

The illustrious framers of our organic law provided us with a strong bulwark against these destructive forces when they passed the constitutional provision regarding religious instruction in public schools. Our task is to see to it that this bulwark is not sapped and undermined by a few highly-placed officials who deny in secret what they publicly swear to uphold, and whose loyalty is divided between a Constitution that guarantees religious instruction in public schools, and an association that seeks to eliminate it altogether. Against such unpublicized but powerful pressure groups, the citizens of this country have both the right and the duty to defend themselves and their children.


This, then, is the task before you. You are acting in this controversy not to obtain any special concessions for your Faith but to safeguard an essential right of all citizens of every faith. Religious principle and civic duty, not partisan passion and politics, must motivate and direct your action and the means you employ must be those, and those only, which are conformable to our democratic way of life. Your objectives are definite, reasonable and just: first, an open, free and searching inquiry by the proper authorities not only into the public statements and denials, but into the deeds, the private commitments and the day-to-day administration of the officials at the head of our educational system; and second, the provision of practical and permanent safeguards to ensure full implementation of our laws regarding religious instruction in public schools.

As an earnest of Our complete confidence in you and your leaders in Catholic Action, We impart to you and to them Our joint Episcopal benediction.

Ash Wednesday, February 18, 1953, Manila, Philippines.


Archbishop of Cebu


Archbishop of Nueva Segovia


Archbishop of Cagayan


Archbishop of Nueva Caceres


Archbishop of Jaro


Bishop of San Fernando


Bishop of Zamboanga


Bishop of Tagbilaran


Bishop of Calbayog


Bishop of Lingayen


Bishop of Capiz


Bishop of Legazpi


Bishop of Surigao


Apostolic Administrator of Lucena

(Sgd.)+JUAN C. SISON, D.D.

Auxiliary Bishop of Nueva Segovia


Apost. Administrator of Manila & Lipa


Vicar Apostolic of Mt. Province


Bishop of Tuguegarao


Titular Bishop of Aspona


Bishop of Bacolod


Bishop of Sorsogon


Bishop of Palo


Prelate Nullius of Cotabato & Sulu


Prelate Nullius of Batanes-Babuyan


Vicar Apostolic of Calapan


Apostolic Administrator of Davao


Apostolic Administrator of Infanta


Apostolic Administrator of Ozamiz


Prefect Apostolic of Palawan