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Duterte forcing standoff with Catholic Church

Philippine church leaders dare president-elect to expose 'sins of churchmen'

Joe Torres and Mark Saludes, Manila

Joe Torres and Mark Saludes, Manila

Published: May 23, 2016 09:51 AM GMT

Updated: May 23, 2016 10:00 AM GMT

Duterte forcing standoff with Catholic Church

Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte's vulgar denunciation of the country's bishops was condemned by church officials. (ucanews.com photo by Joe Torres)

Philippine church leaders dared President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, who lambasted the Catholic Church on May 22 as "the most hypocritical institution," to reveal the "sins of churchmen" for these to be corrected.

"If he says that he knows of some bishops and priests with children, I think he should reveal this and give the proper evidence so that the church can do something about it," said Archbishop Oscar Cruz, former president of the Philippine bishops' conference.

The retired prelate of Lingayen-Dagupan said the Catholic Church never claimed that there are no bad bishops and priests. 

"Of course there are," said Archbishop Cruz, who heads the bishops' legal office and the conference's National Tribunal of Appeals and Dispensation Section. "I know that because that is my work," he added.

The prelate said the Catholic Church has a built-in mechanism "to see to it that churchmen keep their promises and wherefore, if they violate, the church will also impose penalty according to church laws."


Lambasting bishops

In an interview in the local Tagalog language over the weekend, Duterte called the country's bishops "sons of bitches" who have been asking favors from the government while the poor could not even afford to eat and buy medicine.

"You sons of bitches, aren't you ashamed? You ask so many favors, even from me," said Duterte, who has drawn the wrath of Catholic bishops last year for cursing Pope Francis.

The president-elect drew flak after using offensive language to criticize the pontiff for causing a traffic jam in Metro Manila during his visit to the Philippines in January 2015.

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"You know the most hypocritical institution? The Catholic Church," Duterte said in a news conference.

Duterte claimed that the May 9 presidential election was a "referendum between me and the Catholic Church."

"Look, were they able to stop me?" he said. "I'm sorry, your fundamental beliefs do not solve the problems of the country," Duterte said.

He blamed the church for the failure of the government's family planning program after learning that a woman in a nearby slum had given birth to her 10th child over the weekend.

Duterte said he will "do something about overpopulation" even if he would offend church leaders. "I defy the opinion or the belief of the church," he said.

"If I start naming the bishops who got married and have women in their lives, the Catholic Church will explode," he said.

He challenged church leaders to a debate, saying that he would lecture "the sins of the Catholic Church and whether or not you are still relevant."


Nothing new

Benedictine Sister Mary John Mananzan, a leading human rights activist in the Philippines, said there is nothing new to what Duterte said.

"There are hypocrites in all institutions but it does not make all the bishops or the whole institution hypocritical," said Sister Mananzan. "The whole clergy is only one percent of the church."

"And who are really closest to the people in need and suffering and to whom do they go for help and consolation? Aren't they the members of the church?" the nun said.

"Yes, bishops, priests, religious men and women, lay church workers, the parishioners, all these constitute the Catholic church," said Sister Mananzan.

Bishop Pedro Arigo of Palawan found Duterte's statement "strange" considering that during the election campaign the Davao mayor "always made courtesy calls on priests and bishops."

"It is a reactionary blanket condemnation of the institution and the Catholics who voted for him," said Arigo.


Duterte should also listen

Several Catholic missionaries who are working in the southern region of Mindanao, from where Duterte comes from, expressed hope that the president-elect will listen to other opinions.

"I hope his leadership will respect and dialogue with other religions and cultures," said Oblate missionary Father Jonathan Domingo. 

"Only by talking and listening to one another, can we bring peace to our society," he said.

Father Arvin Bellen, a Claretian missionary also in Mindanao, said Duterte's anti-clericalism is obvious in his statement.

"The church is both saint and sinner. As Pope Francis said, the 'church is a hospital for sinners not a museum of saints,'" said Bellen.

"What is important is we admit our mistake and we make concrete actions to address it," he said.


No need for debate

Several  church leaders reached by ucanews.com declined to comment for fear that they might not help "the climate for real dialogue."

But Archbishop Cruz said there is no need to debate with Duterte.

"Debates do not resolve matters. If he wants to expose what he knows about the mistakes or sins of churchmen, please do so. There is no problem," Archbishop Cruz said.

The retired prelate said it will take more than Duterte to bring down the church.

"The church has undergone many trials and difficulties in 2,000 years … So it may be good for the good mayor and incoming president to know these things," said Cruz.

"The churchmen will be there ... that is with or without [Duterte]," he said.

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