EXPLAINER: 'Liturgical' dancing banned by Vatican as a rule. Would that ala-TikTok show in Danao City church fall under exception? Two Archdiocese officials split on whether priest must be sanctioned.

KEY ISSUES. [1] What they call "liturgical" dancing is generally prohibited under the rules of the Vatican Congregation of Sacraments. What the Danao City clergy may seek, if necessary, is for the December 18, 2022 incident to be covered by the exception.

[2] It looks like the Cebu Archdiocese won't investigate anymore the pre-Christmas "panaygon" dance, which must be instructive enough to all priests and parishes.

WHAT HAPPENED. Last December 18, during the pre-Christmas dawn mass or "Simbang Gabi" inside Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church in Danao City, Fr. Dennis Boltron danced with some altar boys to the tune of a Christmas medley and the Vietnamese hit song "See Tinh" (a.k.a. "Ting Ting Tang Tang") on Tiktok.

Uploaded on Facebook by one Yeng Abinales, a video clip of the dance set off furor among social media users whose opinions were mixed regarding (a) propriety of the dance and (b) whether the "offenders" shall be sanctioned.

VIEWS FROM TAN, GUANZON. Msgr. Joseph Tan, spokesman of the Archdiocese of Cebu, said some people "may see it as inappropriate but it is not a moral issue." The act was not encouraged, Tan was quoted in news reports, but the priest will not be penalized.

But Fr. Glenn Guanzon, head of the Archdiocese's committee on liturgy and the team of pastors at Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, said Fr. Boltron "shouldn't have done it inside church premises." He said it will be up to Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma to decide on any sanction against the Danao-based priest.

Msgr. Tan and Fr. Guanzon have not clashed head-on regarding the issue of propriety or morality. But both seem to agree that it should not be repeated or emulated.

Msgr. Tan doesn't say that what Fr. Boltron did was inoffensive to people; he just says that it doesn't involve morality and doesn't deserve penalty. Fr. Guanzon says his colleague shouldn't have done it inside the church, but he suspends judgment on degree of the offense and leaves the matter of sanction to the archbishop.

It's not known if an investigation or inquiry was made by the Archdiocese, the side of Fr. Boltron heard, and the liturgical committee's opinion considered. But it looked like the Archdiocese, through spokesman Msgr. Tan, already cleared the Danao priest.

TIMING AND PURPOSE. Defenders of Fr. Boltron cite (a) timing of the dance, claiming it was done after the Mass, and (b) purpose of the performance, which was Christmas fundraising.

Could it be considered performed outside the Mass when they reportedly danced before the concluding prayer and blessing? When is a Mass considered ended?

There was no intent to desecrate in the song-and-dance presentation, Msgr. Tan said. The announced intent was to do Christmas caroling ("manaygon"), which meant they were asking for gifts, presumably cash, from churchgoers. In that context, some critics may even view the purpose as a bit materially tainted.

'LITURGICAL' DANCING NOT ALLOWED... The official church policy on whether dancing is permitted at Mass may be found in the 1975 document of Vatican's Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, titled "Dance in the Liturgy," which Catholic.com reported in an article on the subject.

Although there are cultures in which the dance "retains a religious character and can be permitted in liturgy," the Congregation ruled, that cannot apply in the western culture. "Here, the dancing is tied with love, with diversion, with profaneness, with unbridling of the senses... For that reason it cannot be introduced into liturgical celebration of any kind whatever." Doing so would introduce into the liturgy, the Congregation said, "desacralized and desacralizing elements" and "create an atmosphere of profaneness."

... EXCEPT UNDER THIS CONDITION. In 1994, the same Vatican Congregation ruled that dancing "can have a place in liturgical actions of these peoples on condition that they are always the expression of true communal prayer of adoration, praise, offering and supplication, and not simply a performance."

Would the December 2022 add-on activity in the Danao City parish church fit into the exception?

First, the Archdiocese has to determine if we are a people with the kind of culture where the dance retains a religious character. And if we are, whether an ala-TikTok show is a "communal prayer of adoration or praise" comparable, maybe, to the Sinulog dance. And second, in liturgy one of the norms -- "from which one cannot prescind (leave out of consideration)" -- is that of "participation by all"; a priest and some acolytes don't meet the requirement.

But setting aside the liturgical rule and exception, there's still the matter of place: doing the dance inside the church, with the mass vestment still worn by the priest, and performing in front of the altar.

NEED FOR CAUTION. Many Catholics aren't aware of the Vatican policy on dancing in liturgy. But they know only too well the deep-rooted belief among parishioners that the church is a holy place and the church site is a holy ground. That explains specifically the criticism of Fr. Guanzon and some churchgoers: the sacred space was used "in the manner of simple public space." Particularly, that sacred space is the sanctuary, which is the "location of the altar in all churches and of the tabernacle in most."

Under the Code of Canon Law, allowed activities in a sacred place are only those that "serve to exercise or promote worship, piety and religion" and anything "out of harmony with the holiness is forbidden." Fr. Boltron and those who believe the dancing was OK will have to show that it was not "contrary to the sacred character of the place."

In hindsight, the controversy alone that the "panaygon" dance could potentially create, as it did, should've drawn some amount of caution. Msgr. Tan says Fr. Boltron could've removed his priestly vestment before doing those steps. Fr. Guanzon says Fr. Boltron shouldn't have done it in church. And they can all say they wish the internet had less prying eyes.