Updated: June 18, 2018 10:37 AM GMT
Priests carry the coffin of slain Catholic priest Richmond Villaflor Nilo on June 15, five days after he was shot dead by an assassin in the northern province of Nueva Ecija. (Photo by Vincent Go)
Leading church figures in the Philippines have expressed dismay and anger at reports that Catholic priests are arming themselves following the slaying of several members of the clergy in recent months.
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan said he was "very disappointed", adding that priests who want to carry a gun for protection should leave the priesthood and join the police or military.
"We don't even have to dwell on the morality of it. It is unpriestly, to say the least," said the prelate following reports that some priests in the southern province of Laguna are secretly acquiring firearms following the killings of three priests and the wounding of another in the past six months.
Bishop David, however, said the report that came out in a national daily on June 17 might be "fake news" that was meant to provoke negative reactions against priests.
"It rubs salt in the already painful wound caused by the brutal murder of our brother priests," said the prelate, who is vice-president of the Philippine bishops' conference.
The bishop, however, said that if the report was true, the priests who decided to carry firearms need "serious counseling."
Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, president of the bishops' conference, has earlier rejected the idea of priests arming themselves.
"We are men of God, men of the church, and it is part of our ministry to face dangers, to face deaths if one may say that way," he said in an interview.
Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the public affairs committee of the bishops' conference, said the church's position is clear, but he added that priests who want to carry guns have to get permission from their bishop.
"They belong to a diocese, which is a juridically independent territory headed by a bishop. The bishop, in his wise and prudent judgment, is juridically responsible for what he does with his priests," said Father Secillano.
He said it is "inappropriate and unbecoming" for priests, who are "preachers of the Word and not gun-toting law enforcers" to carry firearms.
"They are peacemakers and not enablers of violence," said Father Secillano.
Learn martial arts instead
Another church leader said instead of arming themselves, priests can learn martial arts like karate for self-defense.
"You also have to defend yourself," said Archbishop Rolando Tirona of Caceres, adding that learning these skills should only be a preventive measure.
"Priests cannot be like Superman or Spiderman wherein they will be there where there is trouble," said the prelate in jest.
Father Edwin Gariguez of the social action secretariat of the bishops' conference, said a priest needs to be careful "and learning martial arts is one way of protecting oneself."
He said arming priests, however, "contradicts the very meaning of the priesthood, which is a life of total self-giving love, and a nonviolent engagement in peace building."
"A priest should be ready to die a martyr's death in defense of the rights of the poor, in defense of what is right and just. Self-defense cannot justify the act of counter-violence," Father Gariguez added.
Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde last week said he is willing to help priests with the legal means to arm themselves if they request it.
He said that priests could arm themselves for self-protection as long as they acquired guns and permits legally and learned how to handle weapons correctly.
"There will be a feeling of added security on their part if they have firearms, legally licensed [guns]," he said.
"We will assist them to go through the [licensing] process for them to feel safe," he said even as he assured the public that there is no cause for alarm over the killings of priests.