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?