Why We Moved Our Sons Out of the Ateneo

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We decided that we had given it enough time, we had tried and we had been disappointed and hurt. It took us seven years to finally decide to transfer our two boys out of my alma-mater, the Ateneo de Manila University. In 2006 when we were applying for our eldest son to enter primary school, the options were to send him to where I went as a child, the Ateneo (which is usually the case for most of my contemporaries) or to send them to the all-boys equivalent of our daughter’s school, run by PAREF (Parents for Education Foundation), a lay foundation established to strengthen the diminishing role of parents in the education of their children. Knowing how watered-down the formation was at the Ateneo I consulted a priest-friend (and Ateneo alumnus), who told me that a child’s formation in faith is not necessarily solely determined by what they are taught in school but what is practiced at home. He said that perhaps, if we form our children well in faith, they can even serve as channels for evangelizing other children at the Ateneo.

My hesitancy in sending them to my alma-mater had to do with the growing secularization and diminishing Catholic identity of that school. Not that it was particularly strong during my time, but with the onslaught of militant secularism in society, the push for institutionalizing contraception, the mainstreaming of gay behavior and that school’s de facto support of it and the rapid decline of the church’s influence on society as a whole, this was a decision we could not take lightly! We pondered on whether our sons might become just  another statistic, a part of the “collateral damage” brought about by the watering-down of the faith in these schools and even perhaps join the ranks of the rapidly growing number of nominal Catholics who call themselves “Catholic” but actively dissent to Church teaching and have little or no love or loyalty to the Church that Christ founded.

You see, our daughter’s school’s religious formation is top-notch and by this I don’t mean it is run like a convent. it has a daily school life centered on the liturgy, strong Catholic catechesis, human and academic development and, regardless of one’s religious affiliation, an emphasis on virtues. While most Catholic schools have veered from catechesis to the watered-down, touchy-feely, “Christian Living” instruction, this school has maintained catechetical formation as it’s core way of imparting the faith. Aside from this, Philosophy and, in the case of the boys section counterpart, Latin is also taught for four years in high school.

The Final Straw

The decision to move my sons was a rather painful one but it had to be done. The final straw was drawn when the Reproductive Health Act of 2012 known as the RH Law passed in congress. As early as 2008 fourteen Ateneo faculty members from the social science and theology departments signed a letter dissenting from the Church’s opposition to the then, Reproductive Health bill (they didn’t care about the fact that they were employed in a Jesuit-run university that has a Catholic mandate to adhere to Catholic teaching on sexual morality). Without going into details and timeline of events regarding this bill, by 2012, the number of dissenting Ateneo faculty had swelled to about 200 (the majority actually) with other Catholic school faculty members joining their ranks.

Since 1999 I had been active in the pro-life and Catholic apologetics apostolate and my children have always known my position with regard to the Church’s teachings especially on sexual morality. When this bill was reactivated in 2010 at the start of the term of the current president, some of the first to come out in support of this, aside from the faculty of the ADMU I had already mentioned above, were a few big-shot and influential Jesuit priests, Fr. Joaquin Bernas (one time dean of the Ateneo Law school) and Fr. Joel Tabora (President of Ateneo de Davao and currently with CEAP). I had written about them in previous posts: here and here. Fr. Bernas is trained in the art of double-speak when it comes to dissenting to church teaching while Fr. Tabora hosts a group in his kingdom in Davao, called C4RH (my previous post here) a group that has been proscribed by the CBCP.

A Mere Slap on the Wrist

The move of the majority of these faculty of the Ateneo de Manila was scandalous to the Bishops of the Philippines and to all faithful Catholics, primarily because the Ateneo is a Catholic University and many of the bishops themselves were at the forefront of the battle against, what was in disguise, a foreign-dictated population control bill that would set the stage for legalized abortion in the Philippines (everyone in the pro-life movement knew this but for some reason the ADMU Jesuits didn’t care). Ateneo president Fr. Jett Villarin tried to do damage control for what their faculty members had done. He came out with a letter about the incident, which to us in the pro-life movement was nothing more than a slap on the wrist, a mild reprimand if at all. But it was too little and too late and perhaps that was the best that the ADMU administration could do given that many of the Jesuits themselves were not entirely opposed to or worse as mentioned above, even supportive of the bill. The damage had been done, the act was not condemned as it should and so the final nail in the coffin had been placed with the help of no less than two prominent priests of their own order and the majority of this Catholic university’s faculty. Some bishops called for the stripping of the ADMU’s “Catholic” status and some called for the removal and resignation of those dissenters but none of these would happen. The faculty members defended their dissent by explaining that the letter they signed was an expression of their individual beliefs and did not necessarily represent the school they taught in (the Jesuit administrators used this same reason apart from the “academic freedom” card, sigh). It escapes me how any sincere and intellectually honest university administrator can accept the excuse of “individual belief” when the opening line in their letter of dissent was, “We, the undersigned individual faculty of the Ateneo de Manila University, declare our strong support for House Bill 4244,…” If I were working for the Coca-Cola Company and came out in print and wrote, “I, the undersigned individual, an employee of the Coca-Cola Company, declare my strong support to Pepsi Cola in their campaign to determine which is the best cola…” does anyone in their right mind think I would still have my job the next day? The letter of reprimand that Fr. Villarin of the ADMU came out with was merely a token and it was flimsy, unconvincing and intellectually dishonest!

I thought to myself, my God, if they can condone this kind of behavior in the ranks of their faculty in college, what kind of Catholics did they hope to produce? While I was sending my sons there becuase of their excellent academic and sports program, I did so primarily because of its Catholic status, but after this incident, I was not so sure anymore. I now realize that the diminishing Catholic identity of the Ateneo has been festering for many years. It seems that the average Ateneo student is a minimally sacramentalized and not-at-all catechized student. The faith formation in primary/elementary and high school is replete with vague generalities about the Christian faith. It is as though they are formed in a generic form of Christianity with very little Catholic identity infused. It is no wonder then that many of their graduates who enter their college become agnostic or even atheists and are easily swayed to support dissent to Catholic church teaching on sexual morality by faculty who remain untouchable (or maybe even covertly supported) by the administration. The ADMU has become secularized like many of the Jesuit-run schools in the United States and I could no longer see any future for my sons there. At this point, my wife and I agreed that the Ateneo would no longer receive a single cent of our hard-earned money, not that they would notice the reduction in their bank accounts. After deciding on the move, I once again consulted the same priest-friend I had done so six years prior and this time, knowing the events that have transpired, he told me that it may be better to move them.

It has been almost three years since we transferred our sons and I have no regrets on our decision. However, having grown up in that school and formed close friendships there, I still hope that one day, the ADMU may find its way back into producing men and women who will have some filial loyalty to the Church but this won’t happen until the very Jesuits running the University realize how far off the road they have strayed. Until changes in the faculty hiring process are made in conformity with Ex Corde Eccelsiae the ADMU will continue to produce men for others but not necessarily men for Christ. Please pray for the Ateneo and the Jesuits.