Calls to revoke religious feelings offense renewed after case vs. priest

Raffy Cabristante, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 30 2023 10:17 PM

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MANILA — A framer of the 1987 Constitution on Tuesday renewed calls to revoke the law on "offending religious feelings" after court charges were filed against Fr. Winston Cabading on the alleged crime, describing the provision as "unconstitutional." 

Lawyer Christian Monsod told ANC that the said provision was "too overbroad" and was a "throwback to the age of Church intolerance and oppression" prevalent during the Spanish colonial era.

Cabading, a Dominican priest, is facing charges of offending religious feelings filed by former Comelec chairperson and Sandiganbayan judge Harriet Demetriou. 

The case stemmed from a statement Cabading made in a 2020 online show where he rejected the alleged Marian apparition in Lipa, Batangas in 1948.

Under Section 133 of the Revised Penal Code, performing acts "notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful" is considered a crime, provided that it was done "in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony."

"My understanding is he made these statements in an online interview. It was not in a religious place or in an occasion of a religious service," Monsod said.

"It seems to me that the Church itself, the bishops and the laity did not think that he was guilty under [Section] 133. It's only Justice Demetriou who seems to have been offended," he added.

Citing a similar case in 1939, Monsod said that there should be "an unbiased judicial criteria in determining whether a crime was committed."

"It's so broad. Anybody can just go there and say 'I was offended.' It's a subjective issue and therefore it should be unconstitutional," Monsod further told ANC.

Calls to abolish the provision on religious feelings were last made in 2019, when then-Senator Leila de Lima filed a measure to repeal it from the Revised Penal Code. A year prior, tour guide and activist Carlos Celdran was convicted of violating the provision for his 2010 "Damaso stunt."

A group of Catholic exorcists, the Philippine Association of Catholic Exorcists (PACE), earlier expressed support for Cabading. 

In a statement, PACE said Cabading only answered questions on the 1948 alleged apparition, noting that he was only citing earlier Church verdicts that the incident was "not supernatural in character and origin, that is, not from God and hence, not worthy of belief."

"We therefore stand with Fr. Winston Cabading OP in his obedience and union with the Pope and the Philippine Bishops of the Catholic Church with regards to this issue," the group added.