HISTORY OF THE CBCP
(Source: Pastoral Letters 1945-1995)
Best known for the initials CBCP, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines is, in its present structure, a creation of the Second Vatican Council. A permanent institution, it is a grouping of the bishops of the Philippines “whereby, according to the norm of law, they jointly exercise certain pastoral functions on behalf of the Christian faithful of their territory in view of promoting that greater good which the Church offers to humankind, especially through forms and programs of the apostolate which are fittingly adapted to the circumstances of the time and place” (CIC, c. 447). However, it does not, in the exercise of its apostolic and pastoral role, encroach on the autonomy of the individual bishops. In its recently amended constitution (1994), the CBCP specifies the following among its objectives: the promotion of the spirit of solidarity in the Philippine Church; the formulation of joint pastoral policies and programs; the active engagement of the Philippine Church as a body in the pastoral thrusts of the universal Church; and the assumption of responsibilities as evangelizer in its relationship with all peoples in the country, especially the civil authority. Its pastoral policies and programs are implemented through its 23 commissions with the coordination of the resources of the different dioceses. It meets twice a year. Aside from a president, a vice-president, a secretary-general, and a treasurer, it has an Administrative Council which acts on its behalf in between meetings. At present, it has 96 active members who are diocesan bishops or their equivalent in law, coadjutor and auxiliary bishops, and titular bishops who exercise for the entire nation a special office assigned to them by the Apostolic See or by the Episcopal Conference. It has 25 honorary members, who are retired or resigned bishops. Headed by the Most Rev. Oscar V. Cruz, D.D., archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, the CBCP holds offices in a three-storey building at 470 General Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila, and is staffed by 27 priests/religious and more than 82 lay workers.
In 1995, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines was 50 years old, not many years in terms of the whole life of the universal Church, but sufficient to show its usefulness and relevance to the time and the people it serves, and the degree to which it so far realized its major objectives. It is the purpose of this essay to write the history of the CBCP’s 50 years of existence. In writing that history, one has various options. He may follow the traditional historiography in which history is centered on the acts and achievements of its leaders, as is done in most history textbooks. This is “history from above.” Or, he may approach it from the decisions arrived at and the actions engaged in by all the bishops and their co-workers. This is “history from below.” Or he may even apply an academically biased approach (e.g., Marxist theory of class struggle) to interpret the CBCP history. Nonetheless, I do not intend here to use any of these commonly employed approaches. Rather, in describing the 50 years of its existence, I would like to take into account the ecclesiological framework within which the Conference operated and moved, as well as the changing situation and the diverse historical experiences of the Filipino people which shaped it. In writing this essay, it is my thesis that the major shift in ecclesiological paradigm in the Philippine Church, which entailed changes in theologies, values and orientations, transpired in the Second Vatican Council and that when the CBCP responded to the various challenges posed by the particular situation of the country and the people’s experience in a particular period of history, it did so largely within the possibilities of its perception and its ecclesiological framework which admittedly did not always coincide with the paradigm shifts. On the basis of these two considerations, I would like – at the risk of oversimplification – to divide the history of the CBCP into four periods: (a) the period of defensiveness (1945-1965); (b) the period of difficult transition (1966-1975); (c) the period of awakening and prophesying (1976-1986); and (d) the period of renewed vision for the Church and society (1987-1995). Before treating these periods, I would like, first of all, to describe the beginnings of the CBCP.
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History of the CBCP