Faith and Spirituality

Not so fast, ex-justice warns exorcist on Lipa apparition decree

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Not so fast, ex-justice warns exorcist on Lipa apparition decree

MEDIATRIX. Our Lady of Lipa, known as Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace, continues to inspire devotion among many Filipino Catholics.

Wikimedia Commons

‘Give me the document, let me examine it. If it’s valid, if it’s really authentic, then I will submit myself. Who am I to fight the Pope?’ retired Sandiganbayan justice Harriet Demetriou tells Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The retired lady justice is still on fighting mode.

Harriet Demetriou, former justice of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, offered a word of caution to Dominican exorcist priest Father Winston Cabading after the Vatican released a 1951 document stating that the alleged 1948 apparition of the Virgin Mary in Lipa City, Batangas, was not supernatural.

Demetriou had filed a perjury complaint against Cabading for claiming under oath that the 1951 decree existed, but the Makati City Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the case in late January for insufficiency of evidence. The justice, best known for convicting former Calauan, Laguna mayor Antonio Sanchez in a 1990s rape-slay case, is still appealing the prosecutor’s decision.

Before she filed the perjury complaint, Demetriou had also sued Cabading in December 2022 for “offending religious feelings” because he is a “rabid critic” of the reported Marian apparition in Lipa. Cabading was arrested and detained for a weekend in May 2023 over this pending case.

“Not so fast,” Demetriou said on Wednesday, March 20, when Rappler asked about her message to Cabading.

Demetriou, who said she is out of town for the Lenten holidays, said she first wants to read and examine the document for its authenticity. 

“You know, I am a lawyer and I’m a justice as well. I go by the evidence,” said Demetriou, who was also the first female chairperson of the Commission on Elections.

Source of tension

The Lipa apparition has long been a source of tension between devotees and the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines – an example of the power of popular devotions, or expressions of faith emanating from the grassroots, in this country once ruled by Spanish friars and now still hugely influenced by the Catholic Church.

In this alleged apparition, the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared to a 21-year-old Carmelite postulant named Sister Teresita Castillo in Lipa City for 15 days beginning on September 12, 1948. The visions were reportedly accompanied by a rain of rose petals, which many devotees attest to have witnessed themselves.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines investigated this reported apparition, a case that eventually reached Rome. The Vatican, however, said there was nothing supernatural about the reported apparition, as it cited a retraction by Castillo’s mother superior, Mother Mary Cecilia of Jesus.

Cardinal Victor Fernandez, current doctrinal chief of the Vatican under Pope Francis, noted how Mother Mary Cecilia of Jesus “confessed guiltily to having deceived the faithful about the alleged apparitions in Lipa and consequently asked for forgiveness.”

On Tuesday, March 19, the Archdiocese of Lipa disclosed the 1951 Vatican decree on the Lipa apparition, which the Catholic Church declined to publish for decades.

This was after Fernandez’s office – the powerful Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) – provided a copy to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), which then sent it to the Archdiocese of Lipa.

RULING. This Vatican decree dated March 29, 1951, declares that the alleged Lipa apparition is not supernatural. Photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Lipa

The 1951 Vatican decree, originally in Italian, reads: 

S.O. 226/49

28th day of May 1951

By order of the Most Holy Father’s will:

The apostolic delegate is to authorize the apostolic administrator to issue a document from the Curia, in which is declared that the events of Lipa, after serious examination, turns out not to have a supernatural origin and character.

In audience with His Holiness
Thursday, 29th day of March 1951

Certified authentic:
Victor Cardinal Fernandez, prefect

Despite such statements from the Catholic hierarchy, relief in the Lipa apparition and devotion to Our Lady of Lipa, also known as Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace, remain widespread in the Philippines.

‘CBCP is not the Vatican’

Demetriou, herself a devotee of Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace, said she needs convincing proof that the Vatican indeed ruled against the alleged Lipa apparition.

She noted that according to the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law, as she paraphrased it, “no decree made by the Pope can be official and can be valid unless it’s published” in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official Vatican gazette. 

She said no such decree on the Lipa apparition can be found from 1951, when it was supposedly published, until now.

“If that document had been existing a long time ago, how come they never released it? How come they waited for me to file a perjury case against Cabading, because he alleged that there was a decree which he could not even produce in his answer to my complaint both in the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office and even in the Makati City Prosecutor’s Office?” Demetriou told Rappler.

“Why now? Why now? Because of my two perjury cases against Father Cabading. Where did it come from? What is the source? Let me check the official source. Because CBCP is not the Vatican. The Archdiocese of Lipa is neither the Vatican,” she said.

The justice said she “will bow in obedience if it really came” from the DDF, “because if that were true, then it would have been published” in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis as provided in canon law.

“The best evidence is the document itself. Not what the CBCP said, not what I said, not what Father Cabading said. But what the Vatican said, what the Pope said. So give me the document, let me examine it. Then if it’s valid, then if it’s really authentic, then I will submit myself. Who am I to fight the Pope?” Demetriou said.

Cabading withheld comment on Demetriou’s reaction on Wednesday, and referred Rappler to CBCP secretary-general Monsignor Bernardo Pantin, a canon lawyer who earned his doctorate in canon law at the Angelicum in Rome. Pantin has not responded to our query as of posting time.

In her interview with Rappler, Demetriou clarified: “I am not fighting the Catholic Church. I am for the Catholic Church.”

What Demetriou does not like, according to her, is “what Father Cabading has been doing against the Mediatrix, saying that we should not honor or even venerate the Mediatrix image because it is demonically infested.”

This is the basis of the “offending religious feelings” case she filed against Cabading, which, she noted, is pending in a Quezon City court.

“By the way,” the feisty justice added, “it was never dismissed.” –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email