Bishop Celestino Gianan (center), the Superior of the Missionary Society of Saints Peter and Paul, a religious group not recognized by the Catholic Church, is seen with some members in this undated image. (Photo: Julius Cepeda)

Jul 20 2023

Catholics in a Philippine diocese have been asked to stay away from an unrecognized religious society, which reportedly includes married priests among members.

Bishop Joel Baylon of Legaspi issued a statement on July 17 after reports emerged that the Missionary Society of Saints Peter and Paul was conducting “acceptance rites” among Catholics of Albay province that covers the diocese.

“The Catholic Church does not recognize this group as a legitimate body, as its members are no longer in the active ministry of the Catholic Church and have no permission from the legitimate authority to act in the name and on behalf of the Catholic Church,” Baylon said.

Baylon warned Catholic clergy joining the group will incur dismissal from priestly faculties.

“Any priest who joins this group automatically incurs suspension from his duties as priest, and is therefore, prohibited from performing any religious act relative to his priestly duties, such as celebrating Mass and administering the Sacraments,” the prelate added.

The diocese has information that the group has been recruiting Catholics in the region, specifically lay ministers who received seminary formation, Baylon said.

Peter Diwaan, a 46-year Catholic and lay minister from Albay told UCA News that the group invited him to join.

“They said the times are changing and that the Pope would soon allow ordained men to be priests. So, they invited me to attend a seminary formation in Manila,” Diwaan said.

Lay ministers like Diwaan are married men, who help to distribute Communion during a Mass.

Diwaan said he met a man named Raul Barcela, who claimed to be a “married priest.” Barcela invited Diwaan to join the group after they met in a meeting with other recruits.

He attended the meeting invited by a friend, who has “already decided to join the group’s seminary and became a priest despite being married.”

Diwaan said he felt the claims dubious and consulted his parish priest. It helped him learn that they are “indeed an illegal group. They are not Catholics,” Diwaan added.

Henrick Geralde, who claims to be a priest and the group’s seminary formator, said the congregation is part of the “Holy Catholic Church International”— an ecumenical church group composed of Roman, Orthodox, Traditional and Old Catholic churches.

“We are Catholic because Catholic means universal believers of Christ. We believe in Christ, so we are Catholic. We are a religious missionary society in the Philippines under the Holy Catholic Church International,” Geralde told UCA News.

“We are one Catholic Church, but we come from different backgrounds. We trace our roots and succession from Peter, the first Pope,” Geralde added.

The group was founded in 2014 by Celestino A. Gianan as part of the Holy Catholic Church International. He is projected as their church’s Metropolitan Archbishop of Southeast Asia and the first Superior of the society he started.

The group has reportedly established local branches in several dioceses including the Archdiocese of Manila and the dioceses of Imus and Legaspi.

Gerard Liwanag, 41, a Catholic who joined the group, told UCA News they have more than 600 members across the Philippines and the majority are “former Catholics.”

He said their seminary in Manila offers two-year philosophy and one-year theology courses before students are ordained priests.

Father Marlon Gipta of Cebu Archdiocese alleged the group lures members to join their “initiation rites” masked as social gatherings.

“The recruits would receive an invitation for dinner, for example, or a talk on poverty alleviation. Of course, the topics are interesting and there’s food. But after the program, they will bless them and participants would swear their oath of allegiance to the group,” Gipta told UCA News.

The national bishops’ conference has said that local bishops should see how to prevent Catholics from joining the illicit religious order, he said. – UCA News