Conflict at St. Therese Church
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas () - October 16, 2008 - 12:00am

What started as a pure desire of parishioners to help the parish priest focus on spiritual matters by taking care of the church’s material needs has turned sour. To the effect that a parishioner who belongs to the well-intentioned group is made to take communion rudely, a case is filed in court, and parishioners are caught in a web of confusion.

The story begins rather innocently with the St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish (STCJP) at the University of the Philippines-Los Banos (UPLB) being placed under the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) for 33 years until 2000. In 1994, strong leaders of the parishioners organized the Foundation of St. Therese Parish, Inc. (FSTPI) so that the priest could focus on the spiritual needs of the community, and the foundation, on the material needs of the church.

The foundation was able to construct for the church so many things costing up to almost P11 million. These are the rectory (costing P4.951 million), a Garden of Peace (an ossuary), a shrine of St. Therese baptistry and belfry, resurrection chapels, a rectory annex, a water system, a sacristy (costing P1.102 million, with a contribution of P793,425.53 from the St. Therese Church), a repair and maintenance of church/parish facilities shop, and comprehensive landscaping.

The foundation currently has about P10 million in the bank, most of which came from the Garden of Peace.

In 2000, the church was placed under the Diocese of San Pablo. In his memo dated Jan. 27, 2003, Bishop Bernardino Cortez, former St. Therese parish priest, asked Bishop San Diego to allow the foundation to continue under the spirit of the original Memorandum of Agreement for five years, or until 2007. When Fr. Thor Villacarlos took over as parish priest in August, 2007, a series of unfortunate developments began.

A letter sent by foundation members to now San Pablo Bishop Leo M. Drona to help ease the conflict between the church and the foundation explains these developments. From July to August 2007, Fr. Thor ignored the invitations of the foundation to meetings and dialogues with the foundation, of whose boards previous parish priests were ex-officio chairmen. He abolished the old Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) which included three foundation representatives and created a new PPC and Parish Finance Council (PFC). This divided the parishioners and conflicts with the foundation began.

When foundation officers asked why he did not attend foundation meetings, the priest said Bishop Drona told him not to serve as chair of the foundation board, and when asked further why, the priest simply shrugged his shoulders.

Things became worse when the priest announced that the MOA between the church and the foundation was not valid, and that the foundation was illegal. He also used the pulpit to announce that he refused to recognize the foundation because the MOA between the parish and the foundation was not approved by the bishop. The MOA may be defective without the bishop’s signature, but he never acknowledged the usefulness of the foundation to the church.

The letter to Bishop Drona recalls that during a eucharistic celebration, when Mateo Ferino, a eucharistic minister who also happens to be an officer of the foundation, was in the line to receive the Host, he was asked by Fr. Thor if he was going to receive the Holy Communion, to which Ferino said, “Yes, Father.” Fr. Thor hastily and irreverently just shoved the host. What was agonizing for the foundation members — most of whom are distinguished scholars and scientists from UPLB – is the priest’s sowing fear and anger in the hearts of Ossuary niche holders when he said that “the ashes of the dead in the Garden of Peace may just be used as fertilizer anytime the Bishop so decides to remove the ashes and bones of the dead.”

Fr. Thor wanted the foundation abolished. He padlocked its small office and drove away the foundation’s employees. Foundation officers found this unfair, because Fr. Thor and his family continued to enjoy the comforts of rooms in the rectory which the foundation built in 1997 with funds from a raffle and a bank loan that the foundation had to pay back until 2002.

Fr. Thor also took possession of the resurrection chapels which the foundation constructed with a bank loan and funds raised through donations and a raffle.

On Feb. 25, 2008, Bishop Drona wrote a decree addressed to Dr. Rosalinda P. Garcia, foundation president, directing the church properties acquired by the foundation to be returned to the administration of the parish.

As of this writing, the foundation, which is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, has not signed any deed of donation to the church for the structures it has constructed. Under Philippine laws, these structures are still properties of the foundation.

To protect its rights and properties, the foundation filed a court case against Fr. Thor and Bishop Drona as head of the Diocese. But the judge decided that the two parties should just get together and come up with an amicable settlement. However, the two parties would not come to an agreement.

That is when concerned parishioners formed a sort of “third party” to make a proposal to Bishop Drona. One of their proposals is making a deed of donation of properties and facilities constructed by the foundation, to the church. But after one month, there is still no word from the Bishop to give them a hearing.

Some parishioners are thinking of filing a petition for the replacement of Fr. Thor so that there will be harmony within the church and so that all could work together for the benefit of the church.

It is important that the Bishop make a quick decision and step in before things further deteriorate in the St. Therese parish.

*      *      *

The Philippine Association of Teachers of Culture and the Arts (PATCA), an organization involved in strengthening the national culture and arts program, will hold a seminar-workshop Oct. 23-24 with the theme, “Synergizing and Empowering Educators and Stakeholders through the Performing Arts: Focus on Dance, Music & Theater.” This will be held at the Momento Hall, Casablanca Hotel, Penafrancia St., Legaspi City.

The event aims to develop awareness among educators and stakeholders of the values of culture and the arts in their service to the country; enhance their understanding of their role as educators and stakeholders in the fields of culture and the arts, and strengthen and broaden their knowledge in enriching the performing arts.

Registration fee for participants from Metro Manila and Luzon is P5,500, and for those from the Visayas and Mindanao, P5,000. For inquiries, call Prof. Cynthia N. Manalo, PATCA president, at tel. 8508898, loc. 227 and 221, and Dr. Jaime G. Ang, 0919-5184967; email or    

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