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Filipino Priest Arrested for Upholding Church Teaching

Our Lady, Mediatrix of Graces, (Photo courtesy of Wikicommons images, Roel Balingit, CC. BY-SA-3.0)

A Filipino priest who defended the Church’s findings regarding the non-supernatural status of the alleged apparitions of Our Lady in Lipa City has been arrested and charged with offending the religious feelings of a former government official who is refusing to adhere to Church teaching on extraordinary phenomenon.

Harriet Demetriou, a devotee of the Lipa apparitions who served as the former chief of the Commission on Elections, filed a complaint against Father Winston I. Cabading, OP, an exorcist for the Archdiocese of Manila and instructor at the University of Santo Tomas, for statements he made during an online Facebook program.

The program, hosted by Brother Wendell Talibong entitled, “Fragrant oil flows from image of Our Lady of Mediatrix-Expert issues Warning,” discussed an alleged extraordinary event involving a statue similar to the statue depicting Our Lady, Mediatrix of Graces, who devotees believe appeared at a Carmelite Monastery in Lipa City in 1948. The statue, which is located in an undisclosed parish is reportedly exuding a fragrant oil. During the episode, Brother Wendell discussed the position of the Vatican and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on extraordinary events and the Lipa apparitions in particular.

In these apparitions, which occurred to a young Carmelite novice named Sr. Teresita on September 15, 1948, Our Lady allegedly appeared in white robes with a golden rosary in her hand and declared herself to be Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace. She was said to have appeared 15 times. On one occasion, rose petals bearing the effigies of Jesus and Mary fell from the sky. Many conversions and healings were said to take place at the site, and it was initially approved by the Bishop of Lipa. However, further investigation rendered a negative final decision in 1951.

Decades later, the local Archbishop Ramon C. Arguelles announced – without Vatican approval – that the apparition had been reapproved as supernatural. The Holy See responded by reiterating its negative judgement on the supernatural nature of the apparitions in 2015. Although the apparitions were not approved, the Church is allowing devotion to Our Lady Mediatrix of Grace to continue because devotion to Mary under this title predates the Lipa apparitions.

Because of the similarities between the statue of Our Lady Mediatrix of Grace and the statue exuding a fragrance, Brother Wendell contacted Fr. Cabading for comments which he then quoted during the show. In those comments, Fr. Cabading called for careful discernment of the phenomenon because the alleged apparitions at Lipa did not have Church approval.

These quoted statements resulted in Fr. Cabading being charged with Offending Religious Feelings under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. This law pertains to crimes committed in a place devoted to public worship or during a religious ceremony when a person performs any act notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful. The offenses carry a penalty of up to two years in prison.

The Prosecutor in the case considered the online program (a talk show) as a religious ceremony and held that Fr. Cabading’s description of the Lipa statue as being demonic in character is deemed a notoriously offensive act. However, after reading the Prosecutor’s Resolution, several Catholic Lay groups noted that nowhere in his quoted statements did Fr. Cabading use this description. In addition, Article 133 only punishes acts performed and not statements made, because Fr. Cabading’s statements are protected by the Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and of expression.

According to Rappler, Demetriou, who has a history of openly questioning Church authority on these apparitions, filed a 15-page complaint on December 9, 2022, outlining how the law applies to Father Cabading. She said Cabading “is known to profess his antics against Our Lady, Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace, usually in front of a large crowd of people or during any religious gathering or ceremony.”

For example, the complaint referred to statements he made at the 4th National Conference on the Ministry of Spiritual Liberation and Exorcism held in August 2019. It included a partial transcript of Father Capading’s lecture in which he explained that demons can “ ape or mimic or pretend or appear like God, Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, an angel of light, a holy angel, a saint in heaven, the souls of the deceased, or even a living human being.” Demetriou claims this statement “surreptitiously” refers to the miraculous events surrounding the alleged apparitions of Our Lady, Mediatrix of All Graces in Lipa City.

Demetriou argued: “In this lecture of Fr. Winston I. Cabading, OP, it would not take for a scholarly approach to identify the persona he’s been referring to, which is none other than Our Lady, Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace herself. Although he did not specifically identify the exact ‘angels of light’ in his discussion, the same can be readily inferable with his years of constant hurling of contempt against Our Lady, Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace, and her devotees.”

Secondly, she claims this event violated the law because, according to her, it “doubles as a religious Catholic gathering since part of the conference included the reading of the Gospel and the usual delivery of prayers.”

These statements are made in spite of the fact that recording of the conferences was not authorized by the University of Santo Tomas where the event was held or the Archdiocese of Manila Office of Exorcism. In other words, recording this conference to her cell phone is considered to be an unauthorized uploading.

Father Cabading also pointed out that referring to the conference as a place of worship is spurious. “She’s a Catholic. And so, for us Catholics, we understand that a religious ceremony follows an approved religious rite by the Church. And that for us includes the Mass, the other sacraments. That for us is a ceremony,” he told Rappler. “At the same time, whatever I said as a statement is covered and protected by the Constitution. It’s my constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech.”

He added that stating the Church’s decision regarding the alleged apparitions at Lipa City is not to be construed as “offensive” but “factual” because the Church decreed that the apparition “is not from God.”

“The case filed against me all boils down to the fact that some people do not want to accept the judgment of the Church that the apparition is not worthy of belief,” Father Cabading said.

“We admonish the Catholic faithful to read the official Church document and discover that the Church has already spoken,” Cabading said. “The case is closed.”

Catholics throughout the Philippines are outraged by the treatment of Father Cabading with many of them weighing in on Facebook in support of the priest. Various Catholic lay groups  are also condemning these actions and are urging Catholics to obey the guidance of the Church on all matters of faith.

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