The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said it was "perplexed" by the case filed by former election chair Harriet Demetriou against Fr. Winston Cabading, a local media outfit reported.
The CBCP also said the case could trigger "a scandal to the faithful," Rappler reported on May 27.
Social media platforms could provide both Demetriou and Cabading avenue to respond to each other's remarks, CBCP president Pablo Virgilio David said.
David said the two opposing camps can stir a scandal in this digital age since they "can quickly react against each other on various social media platforms in a manner bereft of Christian charity."
The bishop observed that the exchange of contending remarks between the two camps could be seen as a failure of church leaders in convening a dialogue between Demetriou and Cabading.
“It may also be indicative of our shortcomings as Church leaders in facilitating dialogue and fostering communion, especially when brothers and sisters in the same Catholic Church are in conflict with each other over matters of faith," he said. "We humbly beg forgiveness for this shortcoming."
The bishop was saddened that a devout Catholic would court a fellow Christian over a religious matter.
“That a Catholic would feel the need to seek recourse to the civil court for the resolution of an issue that has to do with matters of faith is extremely disheartening, to say the least," David said. "I wouldn’t be surprised if the court rules it beyond competence."
The media outlet reported that the bishops "are constrained by law from making statements that may violate the subjudice rule" as the case was still pending in court.
Demetriou, also former Sandiganbayan justice is a devout Catholic, filed a case of “offending religious feelings” against Cabading for being a “rabid critic of Our Lady, Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace, the media outlet reported.
“Mediatrix of All Grace” is a Marian title associated with an alleged 1948 apparition of Mary in Lipa, Batangas, a province more than 100 kilometers south of Manila.
Rome and the CBCP have repeatedly stated that there was nothing supernatural in the said apparition. But devotees, like Demetriou, dismissed the statements of bishops and priests.
In his statement on Saturday, David reiterated: “Rome has spoken on the matter in 1951 and has reiterated its position in 2015 – namely, that the alleged Lipa apparitions, based on investigations done in 1949, had been judged to have ‘no sign of supernatural character or origin," the media outlet reported.
“The judgment as to whether the said events associated with the image were ‘demonic’ requires serious discernment and the guidance of bishops, who, up to now, have merely upheld the decision of Rome on the matter,” David said.
Demetriou reportedly said the case is about the law, not church doctrine.
“What the public should know and understand is that Father Cabading is being charged for violation of Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code, a statutory law of the Philippines, and not of any Catholic Church doctrine,” Demetriou said.
She added that the court, not social media, is the proper venue to discuss this case of “offending religious feelings.”
Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code 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.”
Cabading was arrested on May 13, a Saturday, forcing him to spend two nights in detention since the courts are closed on weekends.
The priest posted bail of P18,000 ($305) on May 15.
Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code penalizes anyone who violates it two years and four months in jail.
Cabading, 57, has asserted his innocence and right to free speech.
The priest also reportedly said his remarks in a conference in 2019 "is covered and protected by the Constitution."
His critical statements regarding the alleged apparition in Batangas have offended Demetriou.
Cabading is a Theology instructor at the University of Santo Tomas. He was also the secretary-general and vice-rector of said university.
As was initially reported, the priest was arrested on May 13 for offending religious sentiments. He reacted to the case as if the Vatican's decision on the Lipa apparition was "definitive and final" rather than his own opinion.- Oliver Samson.
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