Philippine bishop breaks silence on Duterte attacks

Keeping quiet should not be construed as cowardice, bishops' conference head says
Philippine bishop breaks silence on Duterte attacks

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. ( photo by Angie de Silva)

The head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines underscored the "virtue in silence" amid renewed attacks made by incoming President Rodrigo Duterte against church leaders.

"Mine is the silence of respect for those who consider us their enemies but whose good we truly pray for and whose happiness we want to see unfold," said Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, the conference's president.

The prelate made the statement June 5 after Duterte accused Philippine bishops and priests of corruption, child abuse, and of breaking their vows of celibacy.

The incoming president said the country's Catholic bishops, whom Duterte claimed campaigned against him during the elections, are hypocrites for receiving luxury cars as charity from a state lottery.

In his message titled "Understanding Silence," Archbishop Villegas defended his refusal to answer the allegations of Duterte.

"There is virtue in silence. There is virtue in speech. Wisdom is knowing when it is time for silence and when it is the time for speech," said the bishop.

"Mine is the silence of Jesus before the arrogance of Pilate … Mine is the language of peace that refuses the dark magic of revenge," he said.

"You can understand my speech if you speak the language of silence. You can understand my silence if you know how to love like Him who was born one silent night," said Archbishop Villegas.

After his election as the country's 16th president last month, Duterte, who claimed to have been abused by a Jesuit priest when he was a student, called the Catholic Church the "most hypocritical institution."

Although several bishops issued statements to counter Duterte attacks, the bishops' conference kept its silence.

In his statement, Archbishop Villegas said the church's silence should not be interpreted as cowardice.

"Do we always interpret silence as fear of the cowards; the destiny imposed on the unwilling mute; the refuge of the guilty? It is not always so," he said.

But retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz, a vocal critic of the government, said he will not keep quiet when it comes to statements made by Duterte against the church.

"I don't want to be quiet just like that. We will appear like a bunch of stupid fools," he said. 

Archbishop Cruz said he tried to avoid media interviews after a friend of Duterte appealed for the prelate to give the incoming president a chance.

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"I said yes and I have no problem with that. I only said that I hope [Duterte] will also keep quiet," said the prelate.

But when Duterte renewed attacks against church leaders, Archbishop Cruz said he decided not to be silent anymore.

"I just want to correct some statements he made ... Just the same, I'm sorry, I will not keep quiet if wrong things are said against the church," he said.

The prelate said he understands where Duterte was coming from. 

"I understand him if he is angry with the church. But he should be angry with the church people or churchmen, not the church," Archbishop Cruz said.

During a press conference last week, Duterte said he does not need the Catholic Church to maintain his hold on office.

He also vowed to expose abuses in the church throughout his six-year term.

"I can sit the whole six years of the presidency exposing you and attacking you. I can lose my life and honor anytime. I will not die if I don't become president. So don't [expletive] with me!" Duterte said.

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