Laity groups, clergy rally behind arrested exorcist
Several Catholic Church groups have offered statements of “support and prayers” for exorcist priest Winston Cabading, who was arrested over the weekend after ex-Sandiganbayan Justice Harriet Demetriou accused him of “offending religious feelings,” a crime under the Revised Penal Code.
The charges stemmed from Cabading’s statement last year on an online program where he expounded on a Vatican decree that nullified as devoid of “any supernatural intervention” the controversial 1948 apparition of Our Lady of Mediatrix before a novice in Lipa, Batangas province.
In a statement on Friday, Fr. Jose Francisco “Jocis” Syquia, secretary general of the Philippine Association of Catholic Exorcists, said the group “stand[s] with Fr. [C]abading in his obedience and union with the Pope and the Philippine bishops of the Catholic Church with regards to the issue.”
The Archdiocese of Manila Commission on Extraordinary Phenomena and the Archdiocese of Manila Office of Exorcism (AMOE) also signified its support for Cabading, a faculty member at the University of Santo Tomas, who was arrested on May 13 at the St. Mary Magdalene House in Nasugbu, Batangas. He has since posted bail.
Syquia, the chief exorcist of AMOE, said that the stand of the 57-year-old priest is in line with the Catholic Church, “which has made a definitive (final and therefore closed) verdict” on the supposed phenomenon.
In a Facebook post with the hashtag “OneWithFrWinston,” the AMOE cited the 2016 pastoral advisory issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on private devotions to Our Lady of Mediatrix.
“The Faithful are to be told that on April 11, 1951, the Holy Father (Pope Pius XII) approved the decision of the body established by the Vatican to investigate the alleged apparitions,” the memo read. “The decision was that the alleged apparitions were of ‘non-supernatural origin and character” and were not to be believed,” it added.
Several Catholic lay organizations also denounced the arrest and detention of the exorcist priest and slammed the prosecutor who “considered the online program (of Bro. Wendell Talibong where Cabading was quoted) as a religious ceremony.”
The groups pointed out that nowhere in the YouTube post where the priest discussed the oil dripping from the face and hands of the Marian icon, did he make demonic references to the Lipa incident.
Cabading’s statements, they added, are also “protected by the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and of expression.”
Throwing their support behind the beleaguered priest were the lay groups Exorcism Cross Group of Jeb Principe, the Carmel of Mary Star of the Sea, the PAL Cenacle Group of Jeannette, the Young Thomasian Professionals Lay Dominican Fraternity, the Divine Mercy Prayer Group and the McKinley Hill Cenacle Marian Group.
June 1 trial
The show of support for Cabading comes days before his trial on June 1 at Branch 81 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.
In a text message to the Inquirer, Demetriou, a staunch devotee of Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace, refused to comment on the case, citing the sub judice rule. “Let the court decide,” she said.
As for the growing support for Cabading, Demetriou said she “will not be intimidated.” The former chief of the Commission on Elections added: “No problem to me. Let justice run its course.”
The Inquirer has been trying to reach officials of the CBCP since Cabading’s arrest, but they have kept mum on the issue.
Under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code anyone “who, in a place devoted to religious worship or during a religious ceremony… performs any act notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful,” may face up to six years in prison if found guilty.
In August 2019, former Sen. Leila de Lima filed a bill seeking to repeal Article 133, which she described as archaic and could violate an individual’s constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.
Applied to Celdran
Lay Catholics had used this law against the late activist and performance artist Carlos Celdran, who was convicted by a Manila court in 2013. In 2010, Celdran, dressed as Jose Rizal, held up a placard that read “Damaso,” the infamous friar in Rizal’s novel “Noli Me Tangere” during an ecumenical meeting of the CBCP at the Manila Cathedral. Celdran was protesting the Church’s opposition to the reproductive health bill then pending in Congress. In 2018, the Supreme Court affirmed the 2015 Court of Appeals ruling that sentenced Celdran to “one year, one month and 11 days” in prison. He died in Spain in October 2019.
A series of purported apparitions by Mary, Mediatrix of Grace were reported at the Carmelite convent in 1948, including a rain of rose petals, which a 1951 special Church commission created to look into the phenomenon dismissed as “exclud[ing] any supernatural intervention.”
In 2015, Archbishop Ramon Arguelles reopened the Church commission’s inquiry into the Marian apparitions, saying that they were “worthy of belief.”
A year later, the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under Cardinal Gerhard Mueller overruled Arguelles, saying that Pope Pius XII had already made a definitive confirmation of the inquiry’s negative finding. The CDF also ordered that all bodies studying the alleged apparitions be “immediately disbanded.”
Demetriou and other Marian devotees have since called for a reopening of the inquiry into the phenomenon, saying no document has been shown to prove the negative judgment confirmed by the Pope.
After the CDF declaration in 2016, then CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas said: “We do not need apparitions to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.”