A PERSON without faith can teach religious studies, but never Catholic theology and ethics.

This was according to Fr. Gerard Timoner III, O.P., prior provincial of the Dominican Province of the Philippines, during the conferment of the “mandatum” cross to tenured lay professors of Catholic theology, morals, ethics, and professional ethics last Sept. 19 at the Santisimo Rosario Parish Church.

The mandatum, a license to teach theology and ethics, is a new requirement of the University.

All 99 professors who applied for the mandatum were approved by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle upon the recommendation of Fr. Herminio Dagohoy, O.P., Rector of UST.

“Theology is not mere religious studies. It is possible for a Muslim scholar to teach excellently about the Catholic religion. But only a faithful Catholic can teach theology, because theology is an activity not just of reason, but of faith,” said Timoner, who is also the vice grand chancellor of the University.

Faculty members can only speak in the name of the Church if they first “listen in attentive obedience” to the teachings of the Church, Timoner added.

Aside from 55 theology professors from the Institute of Religion (IR), there were also five each from the Faculty of Pharmacy, Colleges of Commerce and Business Administration, Rehabilitation Sciences, and Accountancy; and three each from the College of Education and Faculty of Arts and Letters.

Eighteen professors from the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, UST High School, and College of Nursing also obtained the mandatum.

Among those who received the mandatum were Rehabilitation Sciences Dean Jocelyn Agcaoili and Engineering Dean Josefin de Alban, Jr.

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During the installation ceremony, the professors were conferred the “mandatum cross,” which symbolizes the professors’ faithful commitment to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

In an e-mail to the Varsitarian, Secretary General Fr. Winston Cabading, O.P., said the cross signifies communion with the local bishop who accepted the faculty member’s application for a mandatum. He compared it to the wedding ring worn by married couples.

The external sign of fidelity is the wearing of the cross since the mandatum requires a profession of faith and an oath of fidelity, he added.

Non-heretic teachings

Only two out of 35 ethics professors under the University’s Philosophy department applied for the mandatum, but its chair clarified that this does not mean they will be teaching heretical or anti-Christian doctrines.

Philosophy department chair Paolo Bolaños said it remains unclear whether instructors of general ethics are covered by the requirement or not.

“We should not be covered by the mandatum because first, the course descriptions of Christian ethics and general ethics are radically different,” Bolaños told the Varsitarian in an interview.

He added that general ethics is a “survey course” of all ethical systems which is taught objectively, unlike Christian ethics which is taught in a doctrinal manner.

But Cabading said the teaching of ethics in UST “is not simply academic.”

“Although ethical systems from different traditions may be presented to give a global picture of man’s quest to understand right and wrong, nonetheless, in the end, a teacher in this Catholic University should draw the students to the beauty of the teachings of Christ as conveyed to us through the Church’s ethical and moral principles,” Cabading said in the same e-mail.

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Meanwhile, Institute of Religion faculty secretary Allan Basas said subjects with ethical components must be taught “in light with the Christian morality.”

“You cannot expound the secular ethics which runs contrary to Christian ethics, otherwise, you confuse the students,” Basas said. “Because UST is a Catholic university, our students have a right to solid Catholic education. So if you teach anything contrary to the doctrines of the Church, then you are in violation of that obligation of the University to the students.”

Basas added that it is the obligation of ethics professors to discuss secular ethics, but the goal of teachers in a Catholic university is “not just to inform but to form the Catholic conscience” of Thomasians.

“Hindi mo naman kasi puwede sabihin na obligasyon lang ‘yan ng mga taga-Institute of Religion. If you’re not a Catholic and you teach in the University, at least you should show respect to the Catholic doctrines.”

Cabading said that even though the mandatum only covers a specific group of teachers, all faculty members are duty-bound by contract with the University to further its ideals.

“By the very nature of the University of Santo Tomas as the Catholic University of the Philippines, every faculty member is compelled, as stipulated in the General Statutes, to show fidelity or respect (in case of non-Catholic teachers) to Catholic ideals in their research and teaching,” Cabading said. “Therefore, sanctions are given to a faculty member who commits actions offensive to the Catholic ideals and teachings.”

Subjects covered

Article 39 of the General Statutes states that professors who teach “Theology and Professional Ethics in all Faculties, Colleges, and Schools” are covered by the mandatum.

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Cabading said the faculty or the college dean and regent will determine which Ethics subjects in the curriculum inherently require the mandatum, while the Office of Religious Affairs will identify the Theology and Christian Ethics or Morals subjects covered by the requirement.

“As to the other disciplines with ‘Ethics’ in their subject titles, the Office for Academic Affairs and Research, together with the Deans and Regents, have jurisdiction over determining whether or not a subject falls under the requirement…,” Cabading said. “Because in certain instances, a subject labeled as ‘Ethics’ is not categorically about moral principles but rather, about procedures and protocols.”

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