Lipa – Approved!?
The journal of one of the perceived antagonists of the apparitions in Lipa, Philippines has recently surfaced. It comprises the findings of Father Angel de Blas, O.P., who is infamous for the incident of angrily throwing an ashtray at the visionary, Teresita Castillo, during an interview. He was just testing her with a near miss, but the tactic well characterizes how certain aspects of Lipa was handled.
Father Blas closed his journal by saying “the aforementioned expresses my opinion of the matter with which I have been commanded to investigate dispensing myself of prejudice and personal opinion and limiting myself exclusively to what is seen from the events that have transpired.”1
It is easy to believe he succeeded, which render his findings noteworthy and trustworthy. Indeed, he received high marks from a fellow priest, including: “he was the brightest Dominican in the Philippines during that time.”2 But Father Pablo Fernandez, O.P. further stated: “But I don’t think that he was an authority to pass judgment of these supernatural matters.”
Unfortunately, an error in that area significantly tainted certain elements of the Journal. But with that aside for the moment, let us start with his main conclusion. Father Blas considered three possibilities to explain the events.
The first is Lipa was of demonic origin, which he found “improbable” because 1) “many souls… have come back to the faith or have reformed their lives,” 2) Rosary devotion has extended throughout the Philippines, 3) the “truly extraordinary wonders” associated with the petals and water from Lipa, 4) the parish priest’s testimony that “faith and devotion… has augmented in extraordinary fashion,” and 5) comparing Teresita’s replies with the rules of the spiritual life “demonstrate that the devil has not taken part.”3
The second explanation is it was “an invention to cover the disorders” of the principals involved. Initially, he considered this very probably, but subsequent testimony lead to its rejection, citing, “whoever it is who knows Teresita would consider it impossible.”4
It was the last explanation that seemed to Father Angel de Blas to be the most “reasonable.” Continuing he said: “in other words, I truly believe that Teresita has received supernatural favors from heaven.”5 However, this explanation was characterized “as truly supernatural events that have been disfigured by the intervention of incompetent, rather unscrupulous people who perhaps wanted 3 Spot in the limelight.”6
This is largely a reference to the Prioress, Mother Mary Cecilia of Jesus. Much of the Journal deals with Mother Cecilia’s role in the apparition, which he viewed rather dimly. To begin, Mother Cecilia was truly, a poor secretary. Teresita would “always narrate” the Virgin’s message to the Prioress “immediately after the apparitions”7, who would then transcribe it, but not always. Sometimes she wrote her own account later from memory. Curiously, the Prioress didn’t know what she did with those few “original messages”8 written by Teresita.
Then there was how Mother Cecilia handled Teresita’s two spells of blindness. First was her personal attendance, which caused murmuring from the nuns regarding preferential treatment. Though more biting was the criticism of imprudence in not having Teresita checked by a physician. The Prioress’s intercession for both of Teresita’s cures was also labeled suspicious. This brings up the “voice” that had guided Mother Cecilia on various occasions, including these.
The “first blindness”9 began on August 22nd. Father Blas relates how the “voice” said it would last three days, but later that morning the “voice” prolonged it by another two days, only to be revised the following day saying that Teresita would be healed on October 2nd. Father Blas characterized the narration as “she appears indecisive and capricious… that may even be considered, of sadistic character.”10 Such was his opinion, and thus construed incongruent to the words of the Blessed Virgin. .
Mother Cecilia “certainly believed” in the voices. However, Father Blas further stated they were “fiction” as his questioning with her responses of “such timidity and with such an expression”11 that he was left convinced they never happened. His interpretation was that Mother Cecilia had “convinced herself to believe she had been chosen to direct and advise”12 the seer. This stemmed from Teresita saying the Virgin wanted the Prioress to know everything that happened.
While a reasonable conclusion from “a very good psychologist,”13 it is a contradictory position. This pertains to the error in supernatural theology mentioned above. The underlying mistake was injected by someone else, but Father Blas fully embraced it. The details are covered in Appendix A, but briefly, it was asserted the Prioress should not have guided Teresita. This implicitly declares Heaven cannot employ a Mother Superior in that capacity, which has the implication that Mother Cecilia’s locutions were false.
It is apparent that Father Blas failed to realize his conclusion was actually an implication of an untenable statement in mystical theology. From this, an unconscious prejudice seems to have crept in. Some of his assessments of the Prioress do have the ring of correctness, but others ring quite biased.
This theological error had major consequences. Mother Cecilia later “confessed” that she lied about hearing the Virgin’s voice. Furthermore, per confession, she always received written messages, but with varying penmanship: “…sometimes exactly like Sister Teresa’s [Teresita], sometimes like a little child’s…”14 Previously, however, Father Blas had appertained that Teresita, at least on two occasions, wrote down the message herself15, with the other messages being relayed orally. Clearly, the visionary’s testimony contradicts Mother Cecilia’s subsequent confession.
64 years later, the CDF will write the Prioress was “the principal witness in the investigation.”16 And so she was – who indeed had a role, albeit minor as her messages were for guidance. But certainly, it is the seer who is the primary witness of an apparition. Though to make a witness of the witness the principal witness was par for the CDF, but with good reason.
The visionary was pressured to sign a false confession, but refused. This occurred in conjunction with the flying ashtray. It was Father Blas who pressured Teresita for two days. This was followed by a similar ordeal with a doctor who wanted Teresita to say stress was the cause of “all these things.”17 So who extracted Mother Cecilia’s confession? For one, it was not Father Angel (see Appendix B).
Though it is worth pointing out that Teresita (affectionately known as Teresing) gave testimony to Lipa’s authenticity, including on her deathbed. She may well have chosen to be burned alive rather than saying Lipa was false. But to seers only is such grace generally given. The parents of the Fatima visionaries might not have behaved so heroically if the boiling oil was pressed upon them. And as Father Blas pointed out, Mother Cecilia wasn’t perfect. With her faults and failings, and stuck in the pressure cooker at Jaro, the result isn’t too surprising.
But to finish the blindness story, Teresita was healed on September 7th, not October 2nd as foretold by the voice. Though Teresita’s second blindness did start on October 2nd. However, there is an account discrepancy here.
Father Blas reported the healing will be on October 2nd. But in the version of Mother Cecilia’s account that surfaced in the early 90’s, the healing was predicted for September 7th. Did the Prioress mishear the date, which was corrected in a later version of the account? Did the apparently wrong prophecy spawn an overreaction from Father Angel? (see Appendix C for further discussion).
That point aside, for both healings, the voice instructed the Prioress to kiss Teresita’s eyes, upon which she was cured. But at the time, Teresita knew nothing of the “voice” and only thought that her eyes had been touched. She was “greatly surprised”18 when she was later told that Mother Cecilia was being guided by this voice and had kissed her eyes.
Petals From Heaven
Petal showers, as a precedent, goes back at least to Fatima. During the 1917 apparitions, many (though not all) saw flower petals falling from the sky. But everyone saw the Miracle of the Sun, which lasted about fifteen minutes. Subsequently, at Garabandal and then Medjugorje, the Virgin revealed that a permanent sign (miraculous in nature) will appear at each of those apparition sites. With this progression in mind, notice that the flower petals at Fatima would disappear before touching ground. The logical development would thus be persisting petals as in Lipa.
So where did the petals come from? Father Blas cited the assigned biologist, Dr. Quesumbing, who stated some of the petals didn’t come from a flower19. Independently, “a famous American university” tested the petals and also concluded “there was no way they could ever have been attached to a stem!” They also determined the Lipa petals belonged to a rose variety that “grows only in Russia,” which differs from Dr. Quesumbing who said he couldn’t identify the variety without leaves or a stem.
Maybe this resolves the accusation of the Prioress ordering the Sisters to burn the stems of roses delivered to the Convent. Was Mother Cecilia buying petal-less stems to match the stem-less petals that fell in Lipa?
Father Angel, however, was quite negative regarding the petal images, saying the Sisters also put little stock in them. He puts forth a change from initially vague images to increasing more detailed ones, indicating a refinement in printing. He further stated he was able to make such images.
With forgery so easy, determining authenticity is hard unless the process itself is readily detectable. But as the petals’ veins still remain intact, testing may yet be possible today, particularly with modern technology. Though maybe only few of the petals were of the stem-less variety originating from Heaven… But the phenomenon of images on rose petals is noteworthy itself, and has a pertinent precedent.
Rhoda Wise was a stigmatic and mystic whose cause for beautification is under way. She was instrumental in interceding for a cure regarding a certain young lady, subsequently known as Mother Angelica. But the pertinent aspect here is Rhoda Wise’s relationship with Saint Theresa the Little Flower, who appeared to Rhoda about twenty times. In addition, Saint Theresa left behind several rose petals with images on them. The timeline was the 1930’s and 40’s.
The tie-in to Lipa is evident. Teresita was actually named after the Little Flower. This followed her mother’s petition to the Little Flower for another daughter. Furthermore, Saint Theresa appeared to Teresita on her feast day, with petals falling as well. Finally, Rhoda Wise left this world on July 7th, 1948. This was three days after Teresita's fateful entrance into the Carmelite Convent, with the events soon to follow.
The Secret of Lipa
At first blush, it may seem curious that Heaven would fight for Lipa’s approval as the February 1990 events indicate, plus petal showers in 1991 and culminating with signs in the sun in 1992, “at times spinning vigorously… rays were of different colors,”20 which was witnessed by tens of thousands as Archbishop Mariano Gaviola Emeritus celebrated an outdoor Mass on the Convent grounds.. But as expressed on our About page, the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is intimately tied to the title: the Mediatrix of All Grace – Lipa’s title. This alone gives importance to Lipa.
But as with many apparitions, Mary gave a secret at Lipa (actually several, one to Convent, one to the visionary…). The backdrop is the Communists take over China, which started in 1927. After WWII, fighting resumed with the Communists soon winning. On October 1st, 1949, Mao Zedong declared the foundation of the People's Republic of China. Sixteen days later, Mary would give a secret to Teresita, which was subsequently made public, whose import is obvious enough.
“Pray hard for China’s dream to invade the whole world. The Philippines is one of its favorites. Money is the evil force that will lead the people of the world to destruction.”
This echoes similar messages from Our Lady regarding China. For example, “After much fighting. China will turn to Mother Church. Again the Lady pauses before adding very slowly, After much fighting.” – Our Lady of All Nations, December 31st, 1951.
Though it isn’t fair to just blandly lump Lipa into other apparitions. The Virgin’s last message through Teresita, forty-six years after the original apparitions, was on March 25th, 1994. It was addressed to the Philippines with Mary’s final words being:
But this will have to suffice for the story of Lipa. More information can be found in our original article replete with wild-west tone and brimming with “allegedly,” which was suppressed here. Yet, there is one more item of business.
Dead Men Don’t Decree
First, a review of Lipa’s ecclesial status. Around 1950, a local investigation was conducted. Subsequently, a Special Commission of six Filipino Bishops, after a record setting six hour meeting (see Appendix D), issued a negative decree in 1951. The next day, the Apostolic Administrator (the Ordinary had been disappeared by then) issued a concurring decree, ordering restrictions dealing with the petals, statue and Sisters.
Years later, two of the Bishops on their deathbed, stated they were coerced into signing the negative judgment. Then in 2015, overruling all prior decisions, Archbishop Ramón C. Argüelles approved Lipa, only to be nullified by the CDF the same year. Back to square one.
Early on, at square zero, the Auxiliary Bishop reported the happenings to the Ordinary, who told the Nuncio who in turn brought it to the attention of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office (currently called the CDF). The CDF decided to investigate, probably because of Lipa’s growing international stature.
The result of the CDF’s intervention was a negative judgment that was signed by Pope Pius XII. However, Pius XII didn’t publish the decree. Rather, the task of handling the situation was given to Philippine’s Nuncio, Egidio Vagnozzi (actually Apostolic Delegate at the time). It was Vagnozzi who hastily formed the commission, coercing the Bishops (by threatening with excommunication as credibly alleged) to sign a negative judgment. The idea was the people would better accept a decision coming from their own Bishops.
Now, let’s examine the canonic status. It is a general principal of law that a decree is not binding until promulgated. Also, any commission’s decision would be invalid in the face of a papal decision. However, strangely, the Nuncio driven decree was apparently valid. Coercion could render the decree invalid. But the proper authority would have to make that determination, which to date has not happened.
So while the commission was illicit, validity was apparently retained because the Nuncio did not publish the CDF’s papal signed decree, which only he was charged to do. As such, the Nuncio reduced a papal signature into policy paper mashie by effectively torpedoing the CDF’s decree.
Whether Pius XII liked the Nuncio’s plan or cringed at its mangling of the truth is unknown. But essentially, it tied his hands. Promulgating the decree now, and thus nullifying and exposing the kangaroo commission, would surely have created an international spectacle. So with little surprise, the Pope took no public action.
But the Special Commission/Apostolic Administrator decrees accomplished the goal of stifling the apparition. These two decrees were the official binding judgment, and demonstrate full evident ignorance with the Apostolic Administrator‘s decree ending: “until a final decision on the matter will come from the Holy See.”
As with all flesh, Pope Pius XII died. So in 1958, did he take it with him? It is a papal act to promulgate a papal decision. But could a successive Pope still promulgate the decree? Or maybe even the CDF? Or was the decree already sufficiently promulgated?
In 1948, the 1917 Code of Canon Law was in effect. Of particular importance is Canon 244, which states every important Congregational affair requires the Supreme Pontiff be notified by the moderator beforehand, and all decrees require the approval of the Pope except when special faculties are granted to the moderator.
Canon 8 is also pertinent: papal laws are ordinarily promulgated by being published in the Acta Apostolica Sedis (AAS), but allows for exceptions. Finally, Canon7 says that promulgation is necessary for a decree to be a valid papal law. Let’s apply these to the facts provided by the 2015 CDF decree (CDF-2015).
In 1951, the CDF members “decided to allow the Apostolic Nuncio… to choose what he believed to be the best means to communicate” the decision.” (#6) Per Canon 244, they decided but the Pope made the final decision via his approval. Henceforth, the Nuncio (not the AAS) was the means for promulgation.
The upshot is the CDF could not unilaterally correct the Nuncio’s actions, even if the moderator had special faculties. That is because this sensitive situation would require notifying the Pope, and possibly would result with those faculties revoked. But before examining this further, let’s consider the thornier question of what constitutes valid promulgation.
The principle judicial fact affirmed by CDF-2015 is the decree signed by Pope Pius XII was valid. Therefore, this papal law was promulgated. But as mentioned above, only the local decisions were known. As such, it becomes necessary to outline the history of the promulgated decree.
In 2009, Archbishop Ramón Argüelles requested access to the archives, and after correspondence with the CDF, released a statement in 2010. He was allowed to publish that the contents of the Special Episcopal Commission decree of April 11 (SEC-1951) “is the official communication of the final decision on the matter, as approved by the Holy See.”
But subsequently, in part doubting the papal approval, Argüelles declared Lipa supernatural in 2015, which triggered CDF-2015. So finally in 2016, it became public knowledge that the promulgated decree exists and was promulgated with papal approval, though its contents were not disclosed.
Though as its name remains unknown, it will be christened here as CDF-1951. To formally define, CDF-1951 is the promulgated decree whose existence was unknown until sixty-five years after promulgation, though its papal authority was known five years earlier, with its name and contents per se still unknown. Now, could there be another promulgated decree with such ridiculous characteristics, or it is impossible for any such decree to be valid in the first place?
A more detailed analysis is presented in the appendix, but the central point is that promulgation requires two things: “what” and “by who.” The substance of the decree was made know. Specifically, CDF-1951 made the determination of “constat de non supernaturalitate.” While the crisp Latin phrase is absent from SEC-1951, the wording of “nothing supernatural occurred” denotes the same thing.
The problem is with “by who” which remained hidden for over six decades. Two simple points will be made indicating this indeed is an essential element of promulgation. First, the concept of law inherently contains a contractual dimension: some type of an agreement between two (or more) parities. But if the parties are not known, there really isn’t an agreement, and hence, not a valid law.
Secondly, Saint Thomas Aquinas said that law is an ordinance of reason. It would be unreasonable to define promulgation unreasonably. Promulgating a papal law without saying it is a papal law is exceedingly unreasonable, on multiple fronts. Indeed, in terms of classification, the “what” is not even disclosed (namely, a papal law).
But didn’t the publication of Argüelles’ 2010 statement or CDF-2015 constitute the promulgation of CDF-1951? Evidently, no. At that point, the 1983 Code of Canon Law was in effect. CDF-2015 makes no mention of special faculties, which probably would already have been lost either because of transfer/death of the moderator and/or due to the change in codes. Without promulgation, CDF-1951 would be invalid with the CDF by itself powerless to promulgate it with papal authority.
To recap, CDF-1951 never had binding authority. The coerced Filipino Bishops’ decree should be declared invalid. CDF-2015 is null and void because it is based solely on something null and void. If the preceding analysis is correct (see Appendix E for more details on canon law and promulgation), this leaves Archbishop Argüelles’ declaration of supernatural origin as the final word on Lipa, well, so far…
A few additional thoughts on the Lipa saga. The principle villain was not simple, but rather three-fold. The main culprit was Egidio Vagnozzi, a man of no small ability, who was made a Cardinal in 1967. But his fingerprints are everywhere. For example, CDF-2015 states “the members… decided to allow [him]…” The question immediately arises: you mean the Nuncio asked for the authority to announce the decision?
The prior Apostolic Delegate had recently been sent to Mexico, related to his ongoing work there. This was in October of 1948, just as Lipa was beginning in earnest. The position was open until Vagnozzi was appointed in March of 1949, still at a relatively early stage of the events.
Obviously, Vagnozzi did not believe in the apparitions, which was his prerogative. But the Local Ordinary was vested with the authority to decide the question, not the Nuncio who, with much confidence, can be said to have effectively usurped that authority via behind the scenes meddling. This culminated in SEC-1951, which perversely was a fitting ending. For surely, coercing Bishops to sign a decree against their will would be a grave moral sin [a faint voice can be heard through the ether: pray for me]. While there were others, Egidio Vagnozzi does seem the main culprit.
Next in the tri-fold was soon to be Cardinal Ottaviani. In his quest to stamp out anything that smacked of Modernism, nary a private revelation non-infected with Illuminism was to be found. Saint Paul’s admonishment of “despise not prophecies” but retain what is good was efficiently reduced to throwing out the baby with the bathwater, after killing the baby, the mother and the kitchen sink.
This brings up the last lost sheep in the fold, and actually the archvillain. This wasn’t a person: it was the principle poisoning all the rest. It was the very bad idea on how to investigate visionaries. This won’t be discussed here, but Appendix C ends with a rather damning statement by Father René Laurentin on the subject.
And so, Lipa became the victim of the victims, which included Pope Pius XII. He was faced with a difficult choice: cover-up the Nuncio’s mess or create an international incident. While he probably was unaware of coercion, wasn’t it strange a negative judgement flowed so readily from Bishops in a country with such a high level of belief? But alas (though arguably providentially), Pius XII chose to cover-up, with the unnoticed effect of voiding promulgation.
It is presumed that Pope Pius XII’s subsequent illness was merely coincidental (no spoilers from the General Judgment). But there is a certain irony that just three years after the Lipa affair, he was left with severe side-effects from a treatment he had received. The papal apartments were now frequently “graced” with his blood-curdling screams.
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