The Simala shrine controversy
- Jessica Ann R. Pareja () - January 3, 2010 - 12:00am

 CEBU, Philippines - Accusations of scandal failed to sway the faith of hundreds of devotees who still continue to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Lindogon locally known the “Birhen sa Simala.”

The Marian Shrine stands in the hilly area of upper Lindogon in barangay Simala, Sibonga town. It was built by the congregation of Marian Monks of Eucharistic Adoration in 1998 when the image, brought by the monks here from Pampanga, showed miracles during the height of an epidemic that killed many people in that community.

But in September of 2009 many were shocked when a former member of the MMEA exposed alleged illegal fund-raising and immoral practices by the group.

Venancio “Frater Paul Mary” Cabillon, who resigned from the Congregation in January 2009 was allegedly angered by the “notice of disconnection” published on August the same year at the official publication of the Archdiocese of Cebu, the Bag-ong Lungsoranon.

The notice said Cabillon has committed “grave faults against the religious vows of the order, as a trafficker of our own members of religious formation and also violates the vows of chastity and obedience.”

The notice also carries an order from Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal forbidding him from reentry in all houses or convents of the MMEA.

Cabillon said he was maligned by the publication of his ouster which came with his photo and a warning for the public not to transact any kind of business with him as he is no longer connected with the group.

He said he suffered from trauma and depression while he believes that accusations against him were baseless, malicious and defamatory and only meant to ruin his reputation.

Last September he went to the media to expose what he claimed to be sexual immoralities, possession of guns, hoarding of huge sums of cash and jewelry from collections, donations and indiscriminate commercialization of religious artifacts and services in the shrine.

He also accused the monk of creating the miracles themselves like Mama Mary’s shedding of tears of blood, crying and other miraculous effects. He also said the monks even held a Miss Gay pageant within the shrine itself.

While he showed the press a photo of the said pageant, it could not be ascertained exactly where the contest was held.

He claimed that these unacceptable practices were all against his conscience, vows and religious beliefs that prompted him to leave.

He also filed a libel suit against Vidal, Fr. Marnell Mejia, Msgr. Cristobal Garcia and Abelio Mangila also known as Frater Martin Mary, leader of the MMEA, for allegedly conspiring in the publication of the notice.

The church is doing its own investigation on the matter and vowed to act accordingly.

After filing the libel suit against Vidal and the three others, Mangila also sued him for theft for allegedly misappropriating more than half a million cash and assorted items or donations meant for the Monastery of Our Lady in Hilongos, Leyte.

Mangila said that the prior Superior of the Monastery in Leyte confirmed that Cabillon did not give the money and other items as he was asked to do.

Another charge of estafa was filed against Cabillon by a certain Pastora Superable accusing the former monk of asking her for money and mobile phone load credits. Superable said that Cabillon informed her that he is leaving the MMEA and will be going to another monastery.

She donated P500 cash and P1,200 worth of load thinking that Cabillon will use it for transportation and other expenses while on his mission. At the time that he was already disconnected from the monastery.

In Superable’s counter-affidavit, she said that the act of Cabillon collecting money and load with the use of deceit and or abuse of trust and confidence has caused damage and prejudice.

A volunteer at the Shrine who asked to be identified only as Elder “Doding” said that for a while, the shrine felt the impact of the scandal. The number of visitors insignificantly declined and the donations they are receiving were reduced.

But it was only for a short while as the shrine is again alive especially during the 13th of the every month which is the special day for the Virgin Mary.

Doding believes the Virgin Mary did not allow the devotees’ faith to waver.

All the accusations of Cabillon, she said, were not true and that people continue to come because they are convinced that Mama Mary never fails to help those who are need and to answer sincere prayers.

She added that people come to pray and not to worship the monks. She believes that more challenges will come but good will always prevail. If one is a true believer, she will not believe make-up stories from someone who was blinded by his grudges against his fellow monks, she added. — /BRP (THE FREEMAN)

ARCHDIOCESE OF CEBU CABILLON CEBU ARCHBISHOP RICARDO CARDINAL VIDAL CRISTOBAL GARCIA AND ABELIO MANGILA DODING FRATER MARTIN MARY FRATER PAUL MARY IN SUPERABLE LAST SEPTEMBER MAMA MARY VIRGIN MARY
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