A funny story

Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 28, 2004


by Bambi L. Harper

THIS is not funny in the sense of being comic but funny as far as it
shows the quirks in human behavior that make the study of human
beings in action an interesting pastime. Many of these stories would
certainly make entertaining movies as well. John Foreman in his book
“The Philippine Islands,” has many of them and would-be story-tellers
and scriptwriters are encouraged to read them for inspiration.

Some time early in the 18th century, a ship captained by an Armenian
arrived in Manila from India bearing a young man who called himself
Monsignor Charles Thomas Maillard de Tournon. He claimed to be the
visitor-general, bishop of Savoy, patriarch of Antioch, apostolic
nuncio and legate ad latere of the pope. As you can see, people have
a thing about titles (this is as true now as it was then, otherwise
why would they get a kick out of being addressed as “Your Honor” or
“Excellency” and so on?). Anyway, Cardinal Tournon (at some point he
must have been named so because he’s listed as such in the Index of
Blair and Robertson) claimed he was on his way to China to visit the
missions together with eight priests and four Italian families and
took a side trip to see how we were getting along. (The ramifications
of the China story are in themselves fascinating because it seems the
Jesuits were at first allowed to use Chinese rituals in Catholic
rites but this was later disallowed by Rome as being idolatrous.
Tournon had been sent to look into the matter.)

It was the practice in those days to place guards on foreign vessels,
perhaps for security reasons, by the custodian of the Fort of Cavite.
The act infuriated the stranger who insisted on a verbal message
being taken to Governor-General Domingo Zabalburu announcing his
arrival. Whatever powers of intimidation the legate had were enough
to send the custodian scurrying to Manila to convey the message to
the governor-general, who forthwith instructed the custodian to
accompany the stranger.

Tournon was greeted with cannon salutes from the plaza although he
still hadn’t shown any of his credentials. In Manila, he took up
residence in the house of the maestre de campo, Bernardo de Endaya,
where the governor went to visit him, although there was a question
about his papal credentials since no one had as yet seen them.

A commissioner was sent to request royal confirmation of his powers
and his papal credentials. Again the visitor got on his high horse
and waxed indignant that his position was being doubted and promptly
threw the commissioner out. Incredibly, neither the archbishop of
Manila nor the governor-general stood up to him. As a matter of fact,
the archbishop was ordered to set aside his archiepiscopal cross
while Cardinal Tournon used his own in religious ceremonies and left
it in the cathedral when he departed. Part of the official robes and
insignia of the archbishop were taken from him as well, and with his
consent at that. The chief authorities of the country paid Tournon
their respects while he, on the other hand, never returned their
gesture. It turned out that he was really Poe Clement XI’s legate and
not an impostor, just a pain.

However, he was nice to the maestre de campo, who was under
ecclesiastical house arrest at the time even if the former did spend
$ 20,000 getting on the good side of the man. Cardinal Tournon got
the archbishop and the governor to pardon the man and asked that the
pardon be proclaimed publicly. He also managed to have the Armenian
captain made a knight of the Golden Spur in a ceremony at the
maestre’s house in ceremonies to which the governor-general wasn’t
even invited.

Finally, Tournon left for China where his highhandedness had little
effect on the Chinese who after all weren’t Catholic and couldn’t be
intimidated with threats. Not only did his imperious ways get the
missionaries into trouble, but he was also thrown in jail by the
Chinese courts. The emperor, just as imperious if not more, then
booted him out of the country.

Tournon then made his way to Macao where he spent the time quarreling
with the missionaries and finally died in 1710 in the Inquisition
prison, having met his match when he tangled with the Jesuits.

Zabalburu got it in the neck when the king found out what had
happened in Manila. The governor-general was declared disqualified
for life to serve after having proved his incompetence while the
senior magistrates were removed from office. Each priest who had not
taken cognizance of regium exequatur had to pay a fine of $ 1,000.
The archbishop was degraded and sent to Guadalajara but continued to
intrigue and connive with Tournon, sending him $ 1,000 from Mexico
and promising him a fixed sum of $ 1,000 per annum for whatever
support he could give him.

Finally, the king in exasperation issued an edict to the effect that
any legate who arrived in his domains without royal confirmation of
his credentials was to be treated civilly but afforded no special
treatment. Every year the edict was to be read in full on certain
days before all the civil and ecclesiastical officials in case they
forgot and another papal Legate got them into another pickle.

As you can see, the struggle between Church and State has a long and
noble history with various footnotes in between.