Philippines’ top Dominican ‘humbled’ by Vatican job

Paterno Esmaquel II
Philippines’ top Dominican ‘humbled’ by Vatican job
Fr Gerard Francisco Timoner III, also vice chancellor of the University of Santo Tomas, tells Rappler his Filipino context will help in his new assignment

MANILA, Philippines – Pope Francis has appointed the head of the Dominican Order in the Philippines to join a 30-member commission tasked to examine Catholic doctrine.

Fr Gerard Francisco Timoner III, OP, becomes the 4th Filipino to join the International Theological Commission for a 5-year term.

Born in Daet, Camarines Norte, the 46-year-old Timoner is the provincial of the Order of Preachers, or the Dominicans, in the Philippines. A former rector of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Central Seminary, he is also the vice chancellor of UST. The Dominicans run UST.

“I am humbled by the appointment because I know, here in the Philippines, there are a lot of better theologians, better qualified ones,” Timoner told Rappler days after the Vatican announced his appointment on September 24.

The International Theological Commission aims to assist the Holy See, particularly the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “in examining the most important and current doctrinal questions,” the Vatican said in a statement.

Composed of 30 members at most, the commission meets at least once a year. The new set of appointees will meet for the first time from December 1 to 5.

This group has included giants in Catholic theology since it was formed in 1969.

One of them is Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later known as Pope Benedict XVI, who served as its president from 1981 to 2005. Under then Pope John Paul II, Ratzinger also served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the same period.

Cardinal Tagle a former member, too

Before Timoner, 3 Filipinos had also been appointed to the commission.

Its first Asian member, in fact, came from the Philippines. A Jesuit considered the Dean of Filipino Theologians, Fr Catalino Arevalo joined the commission in 1974. Arevalo, professor emeritus at the Loyola School of Theology based in the Ateneo de Manila University, got reappointed in 1980.

Now Manila archbishop and cardinal, Fr Luis Antonio Tagle, who had not been ordained a bishop then, became the commission’s member in 1997.

Fr Francis Gustilo, SDB, a theology professor at the Don Bosco Center of Studies, also joined this group in 2009.

TOP DOMINICAN. Fr Gerard Francisco Timoner III, OP, joins the International Theological Commission for a 5-year term. File photo courtesy of opphil.org

Speaking to Rappler, Timoner said his Filipino context will help in his new assignment.

Timoner said the Philippines, after all, “really occupies a very important place” in Asian Catholicism. “In terms of a Catholic tradition, we have a very strong one, and a very Christian one,” the theologian said.

He explained: “It’s not what I bring personally, but it’s what I bring as a representative. In other words, whatever it is that I will bring there is not personal, it’s not mine, but it’s really a product of I being a part of this community of faith, number one, of the Philippine Church. And number two, as a member of this community of theologians.”

From a Filipino point of view, for instance, he said one of the most important theological issues is to push for “the Church of the poor, a participatory Church, an inculturated Church, a Church in mission.”

He described these visions of the Catholic Church as a “work in progress” – fruits of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, a gathering of Church leaders in 1991 to discuss the “renewal of Filipino Christian life.”

More non-Europeans, women

Timoner’s appointment comes as the Pope also urges a “poor Church for the poor” and, because of this, seeks to reform Vatican-based institutions.

This round of appointments to the International Theological Commission, for one, has more members from outside Europe.

The commission is composed of the following, according to the Vatican: 

  • 14 representatives from Europe (compared to 14 in the previous term)
  • 5 from South America (previously 3)
  • 4 from Asia (previously 4)
  • 3 from Africa (previously 2)
  • 3 from North America (previously 2)
  • 1 from Australia (previously 1)

Francis also appointed more female theologians this time. He named 5 female theologians to the commission, bringing to 16% the percentage of women there. This is “a sign of growing female involvement in theological research,” the Vatican said.

Since his election in 2013, Francis has vowed to reach out to developing countries such as the Philippines. He has also envisioned a wider role for women in the Catholic Church. – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.