When Grace Isn’t Exactly Free

indulgence

The sale of indulgences shown in A Question to a Mintmaker, woodcut by Jörg Breu the Elder of Augsburg, circa 1530 (Wikipedia)

A friend based in Manila said that her parish charged her Php400 to post their marriage bann. “Ripoff,” she wrote on Facebook. I replied that I hope she is consoled by the fact that I had to pay Php1,300 to post at my parish three years ago. In a country where almost half of the population live on less than Php100 a day, what the churches charge to secure this requirement to get married is truly outrageous and shameless.

Before we got married, I had to explain to my husband several times what a marriage bann is as he has never heard of it. It is a public announcement – essentially a piece of paper with photos – usually posted on a parish bulletin board reporting who’s getting married, to whom, and when. Different churches charge different amounts, ranging from Php150 to Php700 but the parish that I was required to post the bann at was extreme at Php1,300.  I never went to that particular parish (and was getting married in a different church) but because my home address was under their jurisdiction, I had no choice. After a set period of time after posting the marriage bann, you get a clearance from the parish stating that no one has objected to your impending marriage.

The odd thing is (and I learned this only recently), the Catholic Church has abolished this requirement in 1983. Why it’s still being practiced in the Philippines, I can only attribute to its sheer profitability since marriage banns have absolutely zero usefulness. I sent an email to no less than the Archbishop of Manila (Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales) raising the matter to him and a certain Fr. Edgardo Coroza (whose official designation is “Vicar Forane of the Vicariate of Loreto” – I’m not sure what this means) got back to me with a lengthy exposition justifying the parish’s right to collect Php1,300 for posting marriage banns. I can provide the entire exposition to anyone interested, but the paragraph that bothered me the most was this:

With the practice in Sta. Mesa Church, they are following an old system where it is stated clearly that 30% of the amount to be paid in the place of the celebration of the sacrament will be collected from the parties and which will deducted supposedly from the amount to be paid in the place of celebration.  In your case, I was told that you said that the church where you will be married asks of you some amount of PHP 9,000.00.  The coverage of this amount as to the preparations the church personnel will do in order to assist in your celebration, I do not know.  But, I believe you have agreed to answer for the financial obligation imposed on you.  Let it be known that this choice of yours has already deprived your parish of origin, I suppose it is Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, of the support that you could have given to the said parish.  Hence, the system of collecting some amount for a simple posting facilitates the return of share of support to the parish of your origin. And the amount that Sta. Mesa is not the exact computation of the 30% in their papers.  They limit it to PHP 1,000.00 for the permission and PHP 300.00 for the banns. (emphasis mine)

This sounds to me like a business transaction. I see no difference from restaurants charging a corkage fee for bringing in your own drinks or drinks from other establishments. And this doesn’t sit well with me. My main problem is not that I “feel burdened by the amount being asked” (quoting Fr. Coroza’s exposition) or that I find the fee “inconvenient” as, I feel, he unfairly assumed, but that it appears in his line of argument that God and the sacraments are equated with money.  Fr. Coroza wrote that “no amount of money is enough for the gifts of God,” that is true, but it doesn’t sit well with me that the Church even conceives of bringing in the discourse of money into spiritual matters. His arguments begin with the presumption that God wants my money and this I feel is a disgrace to the Church. I sense echoes of the Protestant Reformation here and how the Church used and  abused the sale of indulgences. I wonder whether the Church, who claims that grace is free, would still give  us a blessing if we do not pay a single centavo.

As to the very rationale for marriage banns, Fr. Coroza wrote:

The reason why there is a posting of banns regarding the celebration of the sacrament by a particular person is to determine the total freedom of the same person to enter into the relationship without any hindrance like a previous marriage.  The posting of the marriage banns is done in the parish or parishes of origin of the contracting parties. In your case, you bring your marriage banns to Sta. Mesa because it is presumed that you belong to that parish.  And attached to this practice is the collection of certain amount from the parties.  And any amount the parish collects is for the particular mission of that parish.

His explanation is very clearly a textbook example of quid pro quo (a favor granted in return for something), and I find it an abomination that it appears that the Church is using the sacraments as an excuse to get money, or what he softened by saying that the “financial considerations” are “meant to support the mission of the Church”. To even tie money (something temporal and profane) with the sacraments (something spiritual) disgraces the sacrament and it takes something away from the sacrament.

Marriage banns serve no purpose and here are five reasons why:

  1. The church requires both parties contracting marriage to obtain a CENOMAR or Certificate of No Marriage from the National Statistics Office, an official document proving that they are single.
  2. Marriage banns and the way they are done are ineffective in determining whether there are objections to the marriage:
    1. My marriage bann was posted in a parish that I don’t even go to. The parishioners there do not know me.
    2. How many people actually read that small sheet of paper? Wouldn’t it be more effective if an ad was published in the national newspapers with a number where objections to the marriage can be raised?
  3. In this age of globalization, people are so mobile. It might be more effective to check on someone through the internet.
  4. Marriage Banns imply that I need the Church to check up on my partner, a very paternalistic and patronizing approach which assumes that the parties contracting marriage are not mature enough to trust their own judgement.
  5. The Church is making me participate in a “service” that I did not ask nor feel the need for.

Collecting a fee for a service that is obviously ineffective and irrelevant is, sorry I have no other name for it, scamming.

I feel very sad because the upfront fee that the Church is asking is an outright message of exclusivity – that is, exclusive to those who pay. Catholic means ‘universal,’ and how sad is it that I do not feel that the Catholic Church is being universal and inclusive. Fr. Coroza wrote in his exposition that people are “free to give according to their financial capacity” but, as a social psychologist who has worked with low income groups, I know for a fact that poor people will not say anything. They will not speak up because they do not know how. They will either scrimp and save to get that amount to pay the Church, or they will opt not to receive the sacraments since it’s cheaper to get married civilly. While I may not even leave a dent on Church policies, I feel it my obligation to speak for those who do not have a voice against, yes, this outrageous and ridiculous fee (I stand by my words to the Archbishop and to Fr. Coroza) that goes against my spiritual sensibilities.

This experience has led to a growing distaste for the Catholic Church in the Philippines. My husband said, “How ironic that getting married in a Catholic country led me to lose my faith in the Catholic Church. What should have been a joyful celebration of one of the seven sacraments, turned into a bureaucratic hoop jumping process with paperwork, payments, and perfunctory interviews at each step. I expected the Church I loved to embrace me, not treat me as a money-making opportunity.” I couldn’t have said it any better.

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13 responses to “When Grace Isn’t Exactly Free

  1. Hi She! Happy New Year!!
    I agree with you, I don’t see the point of having a wedding bann. I felt like it was a waste of time since the bann needs to be posted for three consecutive weeks. Let’s be honest, parishioners do not even bother looking at them! I was lucky pala na I wasn’t charged anything for wedding banns. The fee they charged you was quite hefty – considering they’d only need a piece of paper and 2-4 thumbtacks and that’s it! I also find it outrageous – but I guess maintaining a church is quite pricey and donations, I know (from Mass) goes directly to the priest and not the parish.

    In MTQ nga where I had Kailee baptized – there is no set fee. You are encouraged to donate with a parinig of ‘Siyempre, gagastos kami sa aircon, sa mga kandila, alam mo na – kaya maganda na magdonate kayo ng alam mo na’ sabay hirit ‘wag nating kuriputin ang Diyos’ I honestly hated this. I mean, why make hirit pa diba? Para maconsensya? Lalong nagpapainis…

    i agree

    • Thanks for your note Didi. Natawa ako sa comment mo. Ginto daw kasi yung thumbtacks! 🙂 We had Ruby baptized in Minnesota and I was so surprised that we were not asked for anything at all. They even provided us with books to prepare for the baptism and with candles during the sacrament. I remember a parish in the Philippines charging a certain amount per godparent in addition to the baptism fees. Diba paboritong sabihin na kesyo may “processing fee”?

  2. Hay I can relate. I had my youngest baptized today at MTQ and during the seminar we were told that “donations are welcome”‘ followed by a “don’t forget to pass by the Parish Office to give your donation before heading to the Baptistry”. Plus I had to secure a Permit letter from the Parish near us (which cost 100). I don’t recall doing that for my eldest which was just a year and 4 months ago so it’s like they’re adding more and more “fees” every step of the way! I don’t recall how much I was charged for the wedding banns of both mine and my hubby’s but I don’t think it came close to 1300. I totally agree with you and your husband!

  3. our Church needs money din naman kasi para magtuloy tuloy. Kailangan pa rin ng pera. Besides, sa linggo linggo naman eh marami kasi sa tin ang abuloy ay kung ano lang yung spare na nasa bulsa o kaya ay wala talaga. At least, hindi tayo hinihingian ng 10% ng sueldo natin. And may gamit po ang wedding bann. Maaaring walang nagbabasa dun sa nakapaskil sa bulletin board ng simbahan. Pero tuwing sunday po, inaannounce yung mga names na yun right before the start of the mass. at sinasabi na kung may concern sila dun sa mga ikakasal, magreport dun sa opisina ng simbahan. 3 linggo po yun ginagawa. Either di po siguro nagsisimba yung nagsabi na wala pong pakinabang ang wedding bann or baka di lang nakikinig sa mga sinasabi sa simbahan.

    • Sa dami-dami kong napuntahang simbahan sa atin, ni isa dun, wala po akong narinig na announcement before, during or after the mass na mga pangalan ng mga ikakasal. At kahit pa may announcement tulad sa simbahan na pinupuntahan mo siguro, nakasisiguro ka ba na yung mga kaibigan, kakilala, kalaguyo?, kabit? ng mga ikakasal na yun ay nagsisimba din dun sa mismong simbahan na yun para marinig yung announcement at para tumutol sa kasal? Marriage banns have been abolished by the Roman Catholic Church in 1983 and there is good reason for that – it is simply useless.

  4. And hindi po yung sacrament ang binayaran. Bukod sa priests, may ibang tao na dun kinukuha ang ikinabubuhay. May ilang mga workers dun sa simbahan na dun lang din kumukuha ng ikabubuhay nila plus yung kuryente, hindi naman po free. But the sacrament, and grace most especially, wala po yung bayad. Libre po ang kumpisal, kaso konti lang din pumipila.

  5. I would consider the 400 pesos as a donation to the church. Infact, kung meron lang akong extra na money I would gladly give more. The church doesn’t ask us for anything to be honest. Yung abuloy sa Simbahan tuwing may misa, napupunta yun sa pambayad sa Kuryente at sa staff na nagtatrabaho sa mga opisina ng mga parokya. Maraming simbahan nga diyan ang hindi nakakabayad ng bill sa Kuryente buwan-buwan. Yung mga staff naman, kahit na dapat ay bayaran kada buwan ng suweldo eh nagsasakripisyo nalang para lang sa Simbahan. And Note this; It is a sacrifice that most of us are not willing to make. Who would want to work on a full time basis for the church that will only pay him/her a minimum salary of 3,500 – 8,000 pesos per month. For some mas malaki pa ang kikitain nila kung sa mga fastfood chain sila magtatrabaho or magkatulong sa isang sambahayan.

    Yung iba ngang Organisastion, kailangan mandatory, 10% ng suweldo mo mapupunta sa kanila. Yung mga miyembro, di naman uma-angal.. eh tayo kapag Sunday Mass, kung ano lang maibigay mo, ok na. Minsan nga aminado ako, kahit may isang daan ako sa wallet ko, mas pipiliin ko na ibigay nalang yung 5pesos na barya ko.

    Nung Kasal ng pinsan ko, he managed to pay 25,000 pesos just for rental of the Wedding Reception Venue. Siyempre kasama dun yung Kuryente, Staff, Tables and Chairs and Sound System. PEro di kasama dun yung pagkain and Flower decoration. At yung Simbahan na pinagkasalan nya only asked him for 5,000 pesos, kasama na dun yung Kuryente, Staff, mga upuan sa loob ng simbahan at sound system. Libre pa yung kandila, choir na kakanta sa Misa at yung pari na nagkasal sa kanila.

    To put it simply, libre yung Sacramento ng kasal na ibinigay sa atin. Yung Pari, di naman nakikinabang yun sa mga abuloy na binibigay natin, tayo ang nakikinabang dun. May ilaw tayo kapag nagmimisa, may electricfan, yung iba dahil sa mas malaki yung nako-kolekta sa mga abuloy eh naglalagay pa ng aircon sa loob ng simbahan. Lahat yun para sa atin.

    I have nothing against you regarding this. True enough, yung ibang simbahan would ask more for such services and for most poor catholics, it’s a bit too much. May mga pari din na makasalan at masasamang impluwensiya sa ating mga katliko na dapat alisin sa Serbisyo or parusahan kung isang krimen ang kanilang pagkakasala. Pero kung ang mga ito ang pagbabasehan natin ng ating pananampalataya at patuloy natin na huhusgahan ang buong Simbahang Kotoliko dahil sa iilan na mga ito. Tayo na rin mismong mga katoliko ang sisira sa sarili nating simbahan na itinaguyod mismo ni Hesu Kristo. At alam naman natin na di naman niya kasalan kung bakit nagkakaganito yung ibang naglilingkod sa simbahan niya, bagkus ang kakulangan natin bilang mga tao ang sumisira dito.

  6. hi. my parish is also in sta. mesa and is asking me 1300 for the banns. i really find it to steep to pay that amount. my fiance’s fee in his parish is only 160

  7. hi. my parish also asking me to pay the whole amount of the wedding rites itself (3,200)even if i’m only asking for the parish permit and marriage banns i don’t even go there to celebrate mass but since my permanent address belongs to that parish they consider it as “my parish”. they include the priest stipend 1,500, wedding fee 1,000, marriage banns 500, permit to marry outside the parish 100, sponsors 100 per head(i just said i only have 1 pair).

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