President Rodrigo Duterte denies he is persecuting members of the Philippine clergy even as he warned that he will release more details as to why some priests were killed in recent months. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office)
A Catholic bishop has dared Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to come good on a threat and reveal alleged sex scandals committed by priests, saying it would not ruin the church.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said church leaders would thank the president if what he revealed was the truth.
"Let him reveal his so called expose as long as it is the truth," said Bishop Pabillo.
The prelate, who heads the Episcopal Commission on the Laity, said the president's threats will not stop priests and bishops from criticizing his wrongdoings.
"We will not stop criticizing him if he does not stop doing wrong," said Bishop Pabillo.
Duterte had warned that he would reveal the reasons behind a recent spate of priest killings if church leaders continued to criticize him.
He earlier alleged that one priest, Father Mark Ventura, was shot and killed in the northern province of Tuguegarao on April 29 because he had illicit relationships with women.
Father Ventura was among three Catholic priests shot dead in recent months. A fourth was shot, but survived.
"If you are a priest, and you have an affair with the wife of a soldier or a mayor, you will really die," he had said.
The comments were roundly condemned by church leaders.
In a speech on June 14, the president brought the matter up again, saying he was being forced by his critics to resurrect the issue.
"A priest is no better than me. Some priests have two wives," he said, adding that he did not elaborate on his earlier comments because it would not look good for the Catholic Church.
"If these guys keep on shouting, I will make this public," said Duterte.
Bishop Pabillo said if the president does not want to be criticized "he should do his duties well."
"If he wants to be respected let him be respectable and respect others," said the prelate. "Enough of his threats. No one believes his threats anymore," he added.
Earlier, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan urged Catholics to pray that God touches the heart of the president to stop verbal attacks on church leaders.
He and other bishops issued a statement condemning the recent attacks on the four priests.
They claimed the president's tirades "wittingly embolden more crimes against priests."
"They are killing our flock. They are killing us shepherds. They are killing our faith. They are cursing our church," the statement read.
On June 10, Father Richmond Villaflor Nilo was shot dead as he was about to celebrate Mass in Nueva Ecija province.
His murder came less than a week after Father Rey Urmeneta of St. Michael the Archangel parish in Calamba City survived an attack by two gunmen.
The third priest shot dead was Father Marcelito Paez, also from Nueva Ecija province, who was killed on Dec. 4.
Duterte has denied Catholic priests were being persecuted by his administration.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there is an attempt by lawless elements to sow divisions between the president and church leaders.
"In this nationwide drive, lawless elements will seek to block our efforts by sowing divisions and creating animosity, even exploiting crimes like the killing of priests," said Roque.
Duterte has repeatedly criticized the Catholic Church, calling it "the most hypocritical institution" and even accused some bishops of corruption.
In the Senate, the killings triggered a call for a congressional inquiry from senators who said there appears to be a "dangerous pattern" behind the attacks.
Senate President Vicente Sotto rejected a probe, saying the police can handle the matter.
He also dismissed Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila's suggestion to look into the proliferation of firearms in the Philippines.
"We only need to implement the law," Sotto said.