Archbishop Gregorio Meliton Martinez

José S. Arcilla, S.J.

Posted on April 14, 2014

BORN IN Burgos, Spain in 1815, Archbishop Gregorio Meliton Martinez was ordained to the priesthood in 1840. He was soon named President-Secretary of Studies and Professor of Logic in his alma mater. After studies in law, he was for 12 years Vicar General and Provisor of the diocese of Pamplona.

The Bishop of Pamplona described him as a man of untarnished moral integrity, learned, self-respecting, with a special talent for reconciling opposite views and parties. In 1861, while Dean of the Cathedral of Pamplona, he was elected Bishop of Manila. He took possession of his See in 1862, immediately on arrival in the country.

Few prelates in the Philippines have been as innovative and reformist as him. He agreed with Bishop Romualdo Jimeno of Cebu and the future Bishop of Caceres, Francisco Gainza, O.P., and supported their views.

But the superiors of the religious orders disapproved of their moves, fearing lest they lose their autonomy and thinking it was wrong to reproach only the friars. Their fierce opposition threatened the reformers, who retracted their support for the Archbishop’s planned innovations.

When he arrived in Manila in 1862, the crisis between the friars and the Philippine-born priests was at its sensitive stage and not to be taken lightly. A serious factor was the 1861 royal decree that sought to indemnify the Recollects for the missions and parishes in Mindanao the newly arrived Jesuits took over from them. Unfortunately, this meant depriving the Philippine-born clergy of parishes they had long held.

The assignment of a Recollect friar to replace a native-born priest already assigned to the vacant parish of Antipolo set things off. Led by Fr. Pedro Pelaez, the Philippine-born clergy began a campaign to undo the government’s decision. We will never know how the incident would have ended, for Fr. Pelaez unexpectedly died, buried in the ruins of the Manila cathedral which was destroyed by the earthquake of June 1863.

The Archbishop was criticized for not approving the consecration as Bishop of Cebu of Luis Alcala Zamora, appointed by the Governor General of the Philippines without Rome’s approval. About this time, he went to Rome to attend the first Vatican Ecumenical Council.

He was back in the Philippines in due time. But the controversy between the friars and the Philippine-born clergy had not yet been settled. And when the Cavite mutiny exploded in January 1872, the first suspects the panicky government arrested were the secular priests. The most famous case was that of GomBurZa, a travesty of justice that reoriented the life of an ll-year Calambeño, Jose Mercado, who became Rizal, our national hero.

Archbishop Martinez resigned from his See on Aug. 18, 1875. Six years later, he died.