Catholic Church leaders in the Philippines have shrugged off recent comments by President Rodrigo Duterte reiterating he is not a Catholic anymore. Duterte had earlier said that he stopped being a Catholic after enduring abuse from a priest
when he was a child. Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon
said the president can do what he wants because no one is forcing him to embrace any religion. "There is freedom of worship," said the prelate, adding that anybody is free to practice his or her own faith. Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the public affairs office at the bishops' conference, said Duterte is "free to choose his own spiritual path that will lead him to God." "Religion is not forced on anybody," said the priest, adding that everyone has a duty to uphold and protect the dignity of man. "Basic in any religion is respect for other human beings, their rights and dignity," said Father Secillano, who has criticized Duterte's ongoing war against illegal drugs. "Regardless of religion, one is duty-bound to uphold and protect the dignity of man," said the priest. In a speech in the central Philippines on Sept. 21, Duterte said he remains a Christian but is no longer a Catholic. "I'm a Christian but I'm not a Catholic anymore," declared the president. "Besides, I really did not have any clear religion because my mother is a Moro. She's a half-Maranao. It's my father who's the Christian." The Moro people are the Muslim population of the southern Philippines, forming the largest non-Catholic group in the country and comprising about 11 percent of the population. Duterte said he believes in God but not the "stupid" God
of Catholics who criticize him. The president also reiterated his tirades against the church for demanding fees for baptism, weddings and even for burial rites. "It's all expense. If you marry, you pay. Burial, you pay. Baptism, you pay ... And you tell me that your religion is good," he said. "And that is why I said, your God is not my God. Your God is stupid. My God has a lot of common sense," added the president, who said he "created my own God" based on the values of fairness and justice.