There definitely is a Pontius Pilate flavor in the Catholic Church’s stance on the conviction of Carlos Celdran, who was sentenced to a prison term of two months and 21 days to one year and 11 days for the crime of “offending the (sic) religious feelings” under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code (circa 1930 or 1932, and to my admittedly limited knowledge, last applied in 1939).
Peachy Yamsuan, whose title is director, Archdiocesan Office of Communications, The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila, released the following (as seen in the RCAM website):
“Statement on Conviction of Mr. Carlos Celdran.
“The Archdiocese of Manila did not pursue the Case against Mr. Carlos Celdran for Violation of Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. While deeply disturbed by the incident, then Manila Archbishop Gaudencio B. Cardinal Rosales gave instructions for the Archdiocese to no longer pursue the case. The Criminal Case against Mr. Celdran was pursued by the State represented by the Public Prosecutor and a lay private prosecutor. Based on the Decision of the Court the prosecution presented four witnesses, none of whom were from the Archdiocese of Manila. Three of the witnesses were from the Episcopal Commission on Biblical Apostolate of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines which organized the event at the Cathedral where Mr. Celdran performed the deed he was prosecuted for. One was a regular mass goer at the Manila Cathedral who was present at the event.
“Cardinal Rosales has long forgiven Mr. Celdran.
“How the case on appeal proceeds from hereon is not up to the Archdiocese of Manila or the Church but to the Courts.”
No doubt, Peachy (she is the sister of a very good friend, Perla Roy) was following instructions and had legal advice as well, but the Reader will agree that the hand-washing is there: The Archdiocese/then Manila Archbishop Rosales did not pursue/gave orders not to pursue the case (washing of the hands once); the case was pursued by the public prosecutor and a lay private prosecutor (washing of the hands twice); the witnesses were not from the Archdiocese of Manila (washing of the hands thrice). But other facts will present a less-than-blameless picture of the Archdiocesan leadership, or at the very least depict a situation where the Cardinal’s orders were not obeyed. Consider the following:
The private complainant in this case was Msgr. Nestor Cerbo, rector of the Manila Cathedral, and by his very position a member of the Archdiocese of Manila. Interestingly enough, Cerbo was not even present when Celdran pulled his “Damaso” act, and yet he filed the complaint. Did he do it on his own? One doubts it, but one should not speculate.
Therefore, when the Cardinal, head of the Archdiocese, gave his orders not to pursue the case, Cerbo, his subordinate, should have immediately withdrawn his complaint, right? And the matter would have ended then and there. Fact: Cerbo had all of two years and more within which to withdraw his complaint, because that’s how long the trial lasted, but he made no move to do so in all that time. So the question is: Was Cardinal Rosales’ order unclear, or did Cerbo perform an act of disobedience? I tend to think it may be the latter, and with Cerbo assuaging his conscience by not appearing even once (another fact) during the trial, either as a spectator or as a witness. Definitely, his absence was consistently noted and questioned by defense lawyer Marlon Manuel.
Consider now the part of the Archdiocese’s statement that “the case was pursued by the State, represented by the Public Prosecutor, and a lay private prosecutor.” The part about the private prosecutor is certainly accurate. But the part about the public prosecutor is a stretch because… Fact: Although the public prosecutor was present during the trial, he never once participated actively in the proceedings (he was even sometimes absent). It was the lay private prosecutor (serving pro bono)—Ronaldo Reyes—who ran the whole show. Another Fact: Reyes, as private prosecutor, was representing the private complainant, Monsignor Cerbo (as the transcript of the trial will show), although he (Reyes) seems now loath to admit (in my TV show “Bawal ang Pasaway…” last Monday) that he was representing or had represented Monsignor Cerbo. But one thing sure: Just because Cerbo was not paying him does not remove the responsibility from Cerbo that he had retained a private prosecutor—in clear defiance of his master’s orders.
Finally, consider the part of the Archdiocese’s statement that the four witnesses “were not from the Archdiocese of Manila.” The only way that this statement can be accurate is if one regards the Archdiocese of Manila as an office, and not a geographical location. But while the four witnesses (one is a priest, two have the same surname, and the fourth is a friend of one of the two) may not be employees of the Archdiocese, they certainly work within the Archdiocese (in Intramuros, where the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines office is located). This part is an exercise in hair-splitting (or rather, hand-washing).
Postscript: In his attempt to come to an out-of-court settlement with the Church, Celdran formally apologized for his behavior, and then, heeding the advice of Reyes, confessed his “sin” at the Manila Cathedral. He was told that there was no sin, and therefore no penance was needed. Will the real Catholic Church please stand up?