Deponatur sacerdos qui peccata penitentis publicare præsumit.
The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, commonly known as the Sacrament of Confession, is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church and is very much a part of the Filipino Christian’s way of life. Through it, Christians are able to confess their sins to a priest in order to obtain absolution (forgiveness) for sins committed against God and fellowman. Being absolved allows the Christian to be reconciled to the greater Catholic community.
We are not about to engage on the necessity, benefits, and Biblical veracity of the Sacrament of Confession. Rather, this blogpost seeks to clarify the involvement of the alleged violation of the Seal of the Confessional to an important event in Filipino History at the turn of the 20th century: the discovery of the Katipunan.
Today, history reminds us how government authorities discovered in the afternoon of 19 August 1896 the existence of the underground rebel group Katipunan (officially known as the Kataas-taasang, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng̃ mg̃á Anak ng̃ Bayan or the “Supreme and Honorable Society of the Children of the Nation”) which was, for years, already plotting the downfall of the Spanish regime. Conventional history tells us that the existence of the Katipunan was divulged as a result of a petty quarrel between two of its members, Teodoro Patiño and Apolonio de la Cruz. It is said that the two had a misunderstanding regarding wages (both were employees of the Diario de Manila), and that de la Cruz also blamed Patiño for the loss of some printing supplies. As an act of vengeance, Patiño angrily revealed the secrets of the Katipunan to his sister Honoria who was a nun at an orphanage in Mandaluyong (it was not explained to us the rationale of how Patiño’s quarrel with de la Cruz prompted him to reveal the existence of the Katipunan to his sister).
Honoria, being a nun, naturally grew shocked and upset upon finding out that his brother was part of a rebel group related to the Freemasons, the ancient enemy of the Catholic Church. Sor Teresa de Jesús, the mother portress of the orphanage, saw Honoria distraught, prompting the former to interrogate the latter. Honoria told everything she heard from her brother. Later in the evening, Sor Teresa called Patiño and advised him to tell everything he knew about the Katipunan to Fray Mariano Gil, the Augustinian curate of Tondo. Father Gil, in turn, alerted the authorities who then unleashed a crackdown on suspected members after incriminating evidence was found. The unexpected discovery of the Katipunan compelled its leader, Andrés Bonifacio, to publicly declare an uprising days later. The rest, as they say, is history.
Through the years, Filipino students have been taught that the Katipunan was discovered as a result of Fr. Gil’s violation of the seal of the confessional. The poor friar has been painted as a villain since. And this event in our history has become a favorite target of Filipino anti-Catholics and other Hispanophobes.
But is it true that Fr. Mariano Gil violated the seal of the confessional?
In many textbooks, it is written that the Augustinian parish priest of Tondo indeed violated the secrecy of confession. Take one instance, for example (taken from Rex Bookstore’s The Filipino Moving Onward and My Country and My People for Grade 5 students):
Upon the advice of the Mother Portress of the orphanage, Teodoro Patiño made a confession to Fr. Mariano Gil…
But if we are to consult standard history books written by big names such as Teodoro Agoncillo and Renato Constantino, we will see that they did not even mention the word “confession” nor did they allude to the sacrament. And in Gregorio Zaide’s first book, Documentary History of the Katipunan Discovery: A Critico-historical Study of the Betrayal of the K.K.K. New Revelations, the controversy regarding the alleged breaching of the seal of confession was tackled, but it seemed to center more on breaking the then prevailing myth that a woman confessed the existence of the Katipunan to Fr. Gil (the “traitor” was then believed to be either Juana de Guzmán [Patiño’s wife] or Honoria).
It is not known to many, however, that this controversy was already put to rest many years ago, at least by Concepción Escalada, Honoria’s daughter. According to Zaide, Concepción revealed that she heard her mother deny that Teodoro gave the information inside the confessional. Her uncle Teodoro simply told the Katipunan plot to her mother Honoria in the presence of Sor Teresa.
Nevertheless, Zaide’s account of Honoria’s revelation was doubted by Agoncillo. Even to this day, many historians are divided on the issue. So for the sake of argument… what if Patiño really did confess, and Fr. Gil did divulge the details of his confession to the authorities?
In order to resolve this once and for all, try putting yourselves in Fr. Mariano Gil’s shoes: pretend that you are a priest. Then one day, a tearful penitent visits you for a confession. You are surprised because you know her as a prominent public servant. She is a Catholic, but a Bangsamoro sympathizer and collaborator. During the confession, she also gives you details of an impending attack by her Bangsamoro separatist friends on the capital city. As a priest, you are not allowed to divulge her other sins of having knowledge about bombs being detonated in major cities all over the archipelago through the years. You can only advice her to do the right thing: that is, to surrender to the authorities for having been an accomplice. But regarding her other confession, that of a major attack on the capital city in which many innocent lives are certainly at stake… as a citizen, what are you going to do about it?