Dominican Winston Cabading was released after eight days in jail. The controversy about the Lipa apparitions is one that started in 1948 and still continues.
by Massimo Introvigne
Filipino judges should decide an interesting legal case. If the Vatican has declared otherwise popular Marian apparitions as not genuine, does a Catholic priest calling them “demonic” commit the crime of offending the religious feelings of a minority?
The case concerns Marian apparitions a 21-year-old Carmelite novice called Teresita Castillo claimed to have witnessed in 1948 in the city of Lipa. They were allegedly accompanied by a miraculous shower of rose petals, on some of which images of the Virgin Mary appeared, which the Carmelites collected and distributed to the devotees as the fame of the apparition spread. A statue of Mary under the title of Mediatrix of All Graces, which Teresita claimed the Virgin has used to refer to herself during an apparition, was placed in her convent.
While the local Bishop was initially favorable, in 1951 both the Catholic hierarchy of the Philippines and the Vatican decided that the apparitions were not supernatural. But devotees, including at least one President of the Republic, continued to participate in unofficial pilgrimages. Although she had eventually to leave the convent, Teresita was the daughter of a former governor of the Batangas province, and her family commanded considerable influence.
Teresita died in 2016, but the pilgrimages continued. In 2009, the then Archbishop of Lipa, Ramón Argüelles, entrusted a commission with a new study of the apparitions. Both the commission and the Archbishop concluded in 2015 that the apparitions were genuine. However, in 2016, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith overruled Argüelles and declared that the 1951 negative decision had been personally confirmed by Pope Pius XII and was definitive and irreformable.
In this 75-year-old conflict, new players entered more recently. Exorcism has acquired a new popularity in the Philippines, and priests of the Philippine Association of Exorcists have suggested a possible intervention of the Devil misleading the devotees in the cases of Lipa and other unrecognized apparitions and alleged miracles, a theory some Evangelical Protestants would apply to all Marian apparitions, including those approved by the Roman Catholic Church.
Father Winston Cabading, a Dominican, publicly called the Lipa apparitions “demonic.” Harriet Demetriu, who is both a former trial judge and a true believer in the apparitions, filed a criminal complaint against Cabading for “offending religious feelings,” a crime in the Philippines.
Father Cabading was arrested on May 13 and released on May 21. His case is pending and will be difficult for prosecutors and judges. The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Bishop Pablo David, apologized for not having exerted a role of mediation, criticized Demetriu for taking an internal Catholic matter before a secular court, but also warned the exorcists that the fact that an apparition has been declared “non supernatural” by the Church does not mean that it was a demonic phenomenon.
The question remains whether in a pluralistic society, where secular judges cannot be guided by the Church’s decrees, this is really an internal Catholic matter only or those who believe in an unrecognized apparition are parts of a religious minority that have the right not to be slandered.