Philippine bishops call on people to pray for Duterte

Say president needs forgiveness after calling God stupid, Cardinal Tagle says more important issues need addressing
Philippine bishops call on people to pray for Duterte

Catholics in the northern Philippine province of Pangasinan stage a march to observe the "Day of Reparation" on June 18 following the killing of several priests and President Rodrigo Duterte's verbal attacks on Catholic Church leaders. (Photo by Karl Romano)

Catholic bishops in the Philippines are asking people to pray for President Rodrigo Duterte's so that he can be "healed and forgiven" and not to engage him in a war of words after he called God "stupid."

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, a vocal critic of the president, said on June 27 that Duterte "could be a victim of his scarred past and his wounded background."

"He must have received so much rejection and hurt in the past that he blurts out so much hatred and angst now," said the former president of the bishops' conference.

"If he had been much loved, he would be giving so much of that love too," added Archbishop Villegas.

In several pronouncements, Duterte claimed that he was a victim of abuse by a priest during his childhood.

Early this week, he called God "stupid” and mocked the Bible's creation story.

A statement from the presidential palace defended Duterte's tirades, saying that it stemmed from his alleged bad experiences with priests.

Archbishop Villegas, however, said that while Filipinos pray for healing and for God's forgiveness, there is also a need to rebuke the president on his errors about the Christian faith. 

"He is a person in authority and some of you might get confused when you hear him," he said.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, vice president of the bishops' conference, however said that even if Duterte does not agree with the teachings of the church he has no right to insult it.

"Disagreeing is never a license to insult," said the prelate. "How can he be the president of all Filipinos when he does not respect the Catholic faithful?" he added.

Bishop David said Catholics respect the president's role and mandate. "We can only hope that he shows the same respect to Catholics," he said.


Cardinal Tagle appeals for calm

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila also issued a statement urging people not to be distracted by Duterte's statement questioning God and God's ways.

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"Be at peace. Be calm. Don't let things disturb your inner peace. Let us read the situation with the eyes of the faith," the cardinal said in the statement addressed to priests.

"While these questions are extremely important ... let us not be distracted from addressing other pressing concerns with the fervor of faith and love," Cardinal Tagle wrote.

Among the pressing issues the prelate referred to were rising prices, job security, exploitation of women and children, violence, crime, terrorism and corruption.

"Those who do not believe in God must serve out of human decency, generosity, and concern for neighbors," he said.

Cardinal Tagle urged Catholics "to strive to respect those who differ from their beliefs," adding that religions "are not to be used for conflicts but for mutual understanding and peace."

The presidential palace said it welcomed the cardinal's statement.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said Duterte should be afforded the same religious freedom that he allows all Filipinos to enjoy.  

"We know that we have different faiths, that is why we should respect our differences," said Roque, adding that the president has already called for a dialogue with church leaders.

He then announced the appointment of Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., a former Catholic priest, to a committee tasked with holding dialogues with different churches. 

The spokesman said Duterte's goal in conducting the talks is to foster cooperation in the campaigns against corruption, illegal drugs, and poverty.

"The president really expects better working relations with the Catholic Church," said Roque, adding that Duterte is against divorce, abortion, and same-sex marriage.

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