Saturday, October 30, 2010

Notoriously Offending the Religious Feelings of the Faithful

This cause celebre  pits the Catholic Church hierarchy against Manila's most famous Tourist Guide of the Nineteenth Century,  Carlos Celdran, who recently entered  a plea of  "Not Guilty!" to criminal charges brought against him by Monsignor Nestor Cerbo, Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Research and Development of the Arzobispado de Manila.  Msgr. Cerbo is also the Rector of the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros.  At the heart of the criminal proceeding Cerbo v. Celdran is the following Law:

Revised Penal Code of the Philippines 
Section Four. — Crimes against religious worship
Art. 133. Offending the religious feelings. — The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period shall be imposed upon 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.

This Law can put convicted parties in prison for up to six years, so these are serious allegations that the Good Monsignor Cerbo makes against Mr. Carlos Celdran.  But as we no longer live under the Theocracy that once reigned here with Sword and Cross,  under the Constitution Carlos Celdran is innocent until proven guilty in a Court of Law of the crimes alleged.

In my opinion, proving his guilt in a Court of Law will be extremely difficult.  (And hugely entertaining for the Court of Public Opinion!)  Towards these ends, I propose to lend some assistance and advice to the Prosecution and the Accuser, Msgr. Nestor Cerbo by making the following observations...

By pleading NOT GUILTY, the Defendant Carlos Celdran obliges the Accuser  to mount a credible Prosecution or face public opprobrium and a major loss of face for the Catholic Church Hierarchy in the PHilippines.  At the very least, the Prosecution will have to define, for the Record and for the curiously watching Public,  precisely what they mean by each word and phrase and nuance of the Criminal Charge they are bringing, considering that the last prosecution under this Law was sixty years ago.

To that end, the Accuser will do well to answer several simple questions of definition:

What does Art. 133 Offending the Religious Feelings,  mean when it criminalizes "acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful."?  

The Prosecution may wish to begin by addressing the double occurrence of the plural noun -- feelings -- in Article 133 (first in the Article Heading, second in the text of the Article).  They may wish to note that both occurrences logically refer to one and the same set of emotions or "feelings" of the Faithful. 

Since this Article 133 is entitled "Offending the Religious Feelings" I hope the Prosecution will make it clear that the "Feelings of the Faithful" referred to in the body of Art. 133 are the Religious Feelings of the Faithful and not just any arbitrary non-religious "feelings" like amor propio, personal or collective vanity, avarice, greed, envy, anger, spite or superstition, etc. 

Next we may rightfully ask the Accuser,  "Who are "the Faithful" whose religious feelings are alleged to be  "notoriously offended"  by acts performed by the Accused?

Since the criminalized acts must be committed  " [1] in a place devoted to religious worship or [2] during the celebration of any religious ceremony" it would seem logical to presume that by "the Faithful" the Law means the members or adherents of the religion(s) engaged in religious worship or celebration.

Since the Accuser of Carlos Celdran is a Roman Catholic hierarch, Monsignor Nestor Cerbo,  it would be reasonable to assume that "the Faithful" whose religious feelings he believes have been offended are the Faithful Members of the Catholic Church.

Thus we are led to ask a whole series of questions:

What are the qualifications of the Good Monsignor Cerbo to know the Religious Feelings of the Faithful Members of the Catholic Church?

How does he know if and when and how and which of those religious feelings were offended?   Monsignor Nestor Cerbo should also indicate who exactly and how many among the Faithful have had their Religious Feelings offended.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but what right does Msgr. Cerbo have to speak for the Catholic Faithful about the state of their Religious Feelings??  Since the Catholic Church is NOT a democracy, how are we to be assured that Msgr. Cerbo even HAS the right speak for the Faithful.

It would also be necessary for the Accuser to show some type of written or documentary proof that such Faithful Members of the Catholic Church did have their Religious Feelings offended in just the manner that the Accuser claims.  We cannot send a man to jail on some general claim of hurt religious feelings without getting some confirmation of the factual existence of such hurt in some significant fraction of the Faithful--even just those who were present at the event. Then of course a thorough catalogue of the Religious Feelings themselves alleged to have been offended ought to be supplied by the Accuser together with documentary verification thereof that they ARE religious feelings of the Faithful.

When I first heard about these charges being levelled against Carlos Celdran, I remembered our meeting last March at Ignite!Manila under the auspices of Ryan "Red" Tani and the Filipino Free Thinkers.  Little could we have known that Carlos Celdran would do a Damaso with such devastating panache.

But it seems manifest that the Accuser, Nestor Cerbo and the Catholic Church hierarchy will have a very difficult time proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a Court of Law.  And, it will be HUGELY entertaining for the Court of Public Opinion!

From The Legally Inclined Blog comes a survey of the past, not so humorous convictions under Art. 133--
"Believe it or not, but there are actual cases on this provision of law as when the following was found to be notoriously offensive and criminal: (1) when a rock was thrown at a minister of the Iglesia ni Cristo while he was preaching and (2) when remarks were made that Christ was called the Anti-Christ,  that  the Church marked by a demon and that the Pope is the Commander of Satan (Ibid., citing  People vs. Migallos, CA-G.R.NO. 13619-R, Aug.5, 1955 and People vs. Mandorio).  However, it was found that there is no such offense in an instance where a Protestant maligned the Pope as a Catholic procession was passing through near the house where they were having a meeting (Ibid., citing People v. Gesulga, pp. 75-76). And entering an assembly of a congregation which was having chapel services while drunk and attempting to grab the song leader is only unjust vexation (Ibid. citing People vs. Nanoy)."


carlosceldran said...

Ah. But first the Monsignor has to prove that he was even there.

He admitted in the precinct that he was NOT even present at the Manila Cathedral that afternoon.

Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

Am pretty sure 1987 repealed stuff like this with: "No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil and politiical rights!" (Bill of Rights).

What'll happen is you are gonna get the Law in Art.133 declared unconstitutional. Hehe.

But have you seen Art. 132 ? Ha ha "Interruption of Religious Ceremonies!" They wuda loved to use that one, but curiously it only criminalizes this act when a govt official or employee does it. Sorta implies that a civilian tour guide is allowed doing it...?

Jego said...

They couldve thrown Art. 153 at Carlos Celdran. Six months jail time and a fine. But they chose 133 for some reason.

Richard said...

"The disturbance or interruption shall be deemed to be tumultuous if caused by more than three persons who are armed or provided with means of violence."