Creating trouble during a Mass a crime

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Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
I am a seminarian. I regularly assist in the conduct of Masses in my assigned church. Sadly, every time we celebrate the Mass, there is a group of protesters–some of the members are atheists–who try to interrupt the Mass. These people question the integrity of the church. They bring inside the church placards, banners and other things, on which are written foul words against the Catholic Church. I want to prohibit them from entering the church, whenever a Mass is going on. Can I file a criminal charge against them if they disrupt the Mass again?
Yours truly,
Joaquin

Dear Joaquin,
Yes, you may file a criminal charge against the protesters who willfully interrupt the conduct of the religious ceremony, i.e., Mass, in your church.

Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) provides that any person who performs acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful shall be criminally held liable for the crime of offending the religious feelings, to wit:

“Article 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.” (Emphasis supplied)


Elements in order to commit the crime are as follows: (i) that the acts complained of were performed (1) in a place devoted to religious worship, or (2) during the celebration of any religious ceremony; (ii) that the acts must be notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful. (Reyes, Luis B. Revised Penal Code. Rex Bookstore, 212, 18th Edition)

Moreover, the Supreme Court in the case of People of the Philippines vs. Jose Baes (G.R. No. L-46000, May 25, 1939), penned by former Chief Justice Roberto Reyes Concepcion explained that “an act is said to be notoriously offensive to the religious feelings of the faithful when a person ridicules or makes light of anything constituting a religious dogma; works or scoffs at anything devoted to religious ceremonies; and plays with or damages or destroys any object of veneration by the faithful.”

Therefore, the act of bringing placards and other similar materials with foul words written on them to a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of the Mass, that is notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful, such as in the instant case, is a clear violation of Article 133 of the RPC.

We find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated. We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

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