MANILA, Philippines – From the Dominican house in the iconic Caleruega, where he is the superior, Father Winston Cabading found himself saying Mass on Sunday, May 14, in the most unlikely of places: a police precinct.
Cabading, 57, said Mass for police and inmates not as a visiting priest, but as a detainee.
Cabading, a prominent Dominican theologian and an exorcist at the Archdiocese of Manila, was detained in the evening of Saturday, May 13, for a 1930s crime called “offending religious feelings.” Since offices are closed on weekends, he was able to post bail only on Monday morning, May 15.
“To be issued a warrant of arrest came as an absolute surprise,” Cabading told Rappler in an interview on Wednesday, May 24.
The priest said that when he was arrested, he and his lawyers were unaware that a case was already filed against him. They also didn’t know the prosecutor, in the first place, had already recommended the filing of a case in a resolution dated April 20. All they knew was that he had filed a rejoinder affidavit on February 20, “and we were waiting for the resolution to come.”
Referring to his arrest, he added, “Why did they do that on a weekend?”
Police confirmed on Tuesday, May 23, that Cabading was arrested on May 13 at around 10:10 pm at the House of Saint Mary Magdalene, Caleruega Road, Nasugbu, Batangas. The warrant of arrest was issued on May 8 by Madonna Concordia Echiverri, presiding judge of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 81, with a recommended bail of P18,000 ($305).
The case against the priest was filed by a devout Catholic: Harriet Demetriou, former justice of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan and former elections chief of the Philippines.
Demetriou, the first female chairperson of the Commission on Elections, is one of the feistiest lawyers in the country. A former trial court judge, she is remembered for convicting former Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez in the 1993 rape-slay case of a University of the Philippines Los Baños student.
In Demetriou’s latest legal battle, she accuses Cabading of “offending religious feelings” for being a “rabid critic of Our Lady, Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace.” In the Philippines, the title of Mary as “Mediatrix of All Grace” is linked to a reported 1948 apparition of Mary before a Carmelite postulant, Teresita Castillo, in Lipa City in Batangas.
The reported Lipa apparition has long been a source of tension between the Catholic Church hierarchy and the devotees of what they call “Our Lady of Lipa.” Church leaders have repeatedly said nothing is miraculous about the 1948 apparition, but devotees like Demetriou have questioned such statements by bishops and priests.
In filing a case against Cabading, the former Sandiganbayan justice cited Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code, which penalizes “anyone who, in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.”
The penalty is up to two years and four months in prison.
Cabading ‘a rabid critic’
In a 15-page complaint filed on December 9, 2022, and posted on her Facebook page, Demetriou argued how Cabading fulfilled the two elements of the crime:
- “that the acts complained of were performed either in a place devoted to religious (sic) or during the celebration of any religious ceremony; and
- “that the acts must be notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.”
First, 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.”
The complainant cited Cabading’s statements at the 4th National Conference on the Ministry of Spiritual Liberation and Exorcism held in August 2019. According to her, this event “doubles as a religious Catholic gathering since part of the conference included the reading of the Gospel and the usual delivery of prayers.”
She said that in this conference, Cabading “emphasized how demons can appear to be holy, thus surreptitiously citing Our Lady, Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace series of miraculous events.”
She included a partial transcript of Cabading’s lecture, where he reportedly said that fallen angels “can mimic anything they want.” He explained: “They 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.”
According to the transcript, Cabading added, “For Saint Paul was right when he said, ‘They can appear as angels of light.”
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.”
She also cited an online show on May 28, 2022 where the host, Brother Wendell Talibong, flashed onscreen the statements of Cabading on fragrant oil that reportedly flows from a certain statue of the Mediatrix of Grace. Cabading reportedly said that “the statue is a Lipa statue, therefore, already suspect.” The priest also asked if the oil has already been scientifically examined.
Commenting on the online show, Demetriou said Cabading and a co-exorcist at the Archdiocese of Manila “have acted with utmost malice and impunity” toward the Mediatrix of Grace through the years.
On top of all these, Demetriou said Cabading committed acts “notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.”
“By referring to Our Lady, Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace as something demonic is notoriously offensive enough for us Mediatrix devotees. Hence, it is safe to say that Fr. Winston I. Cabading, OP, had indeed crossed the line in his statements against Our Lady, Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace,” she explained.
“The fact that this Fr. Winston I. Cabading, OP, consistently mocks Our Lady, Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace and her devotees with almost complete impunity, would necessarily imply that I have also become a victim of his blasphemous indulgence and thus entitled to a cause of action for a criminal complaint,” she added.
Rappler sought an interview with Demetriou to seek further explanation, but she declined and said she “cannot discuss the case with anyone by reason of the sub judice rule.”
Freedom of expression
Cabading, in his interview with Rappler on Wednesday, asserted his innocence and questioned Demetriou’s claims.
First, he said, the 2019 exorcism conference that Demetriou cited is closed-door and its video has not been uploaded online. He said representatives from the communications bureau of the University of Santo Tomas (UST), where the conference was held, and the Archdiocese of Manila’s exorcism office filed sworn statements “that they have not uploaded anything at all.”
“Now how she got that video is mysterious to us,” the priest said. “How did she watch it? Through her smartphone, according to her. That’s in her narrative. So of course, because of those sworn statements, you can already say that this is an unauthorized uploading.”
The priest also said he did not make his statements in a place or ceremony of worship.
“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 said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“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,” the priest added.
Regarding his statements flashed on Talibong’s online show, Cabading stressed that Talibong only quoted these on air. “You cannot even hear my voice in the video. It was all flashing, flashing,” he said, noting these statements are also protected by his right to free speech.
He was also surprised that the fiscal “opined that the reason why my statements to Brother Wendell were offensive was that I said that the image was demonic.”
“I would like you, as a professional – you saw my statement, there is a YouTube link – watch that and see if I said that the image of Lipa is demonic. Nothing at all,” Cabading said.
‘The case is closed’
Most importantly for Cabading, his statements are not offensive but factual: the Catholic Church has decreed “with finality” that the reported Lipa apparition “is not from God.”
Cabading provided Rappler with at least four documents to back up this assertion.
One of these is a November 24, 2022 letter from Kalookan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), addressed to Demetriou – and which Demetriou herself uploaded on her Facebook page.
In this letter, which David also validated in a message to Rappler, the CBCP president was responding to her open letter to the CBCP dated December 28, 2021. Demetriou had challenged the CBCP to prove the existence of a “1951 papal decree” by Pope Pius XII stating that the reported Lipa apparition is not supernatural.
David said he and his fellow bishops conferred with Archbishop Charles Brown, papal nuncio to the Philippines, who then contacted the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in the Vatican to ask about the 1951 “papal decree.” Brown then made a formal response to the CBCP dated June 2, 2022.
Brown wrote: “The Archives of the Congregation show that there was a decision, taken after careful investigation by the Congregation, which refers to the fact that the events did not have a supernatural origin. The decision was then presented and discussed with Pope Pius XII on Thursday, 29 March 1951, who approved it. There is a decree of the Congregation attesting to the decision of the Holy Father. Such decrees are part of the normal working of the Congregation and are not published.”
“It was not a decree issued by the Pope himself, but rather a decision of the Congregation formally approved by him,” Brown said.
After having quoted Brown, David then told Demetriou, “With the response coming from the papal nuncio himself, I pray that we have sufficiently answered you.”
In a written statement, Cabading added that the CDF decreed “with finality” on December 11, 2015 – under the authority of Pope Francis – that the alleged Lipa apparition has “no sign of supernatural character or origin.”
The CBCP Episcopal Commission on the Doctrine of the Faith on July 9, 2016, issued a pastoral advisory “affirming the authority and finality of the Vatican verdict.” This means that the alleged Lipa apparition “is not worthy of belief.”
Cabading said some Catholics, however, “take offense at this position of the Church” and “seek to silence the Church and her ministers in this.”
“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,” said Cabading, who is also a theology instructor and former vice rector at UST.
“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.” – Rappler.com
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