Filipino women burn an effigy of President Rodrigo Duterte as they stage a protest march in Manila on March 8 marking International Women’s Day. Duterte is now under fire from Catholic bishops for an attack on Cardinal Luis Tagle. (Photo: AFP)
Church leaders in the Philippines have hit back at President Rodrigo Duterte’s “ludicrous” claim that Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle was removed as the archbishop of Manila because Pope Francis was angry with the cardinal's involvement in politics.
"Unbelievably ludicrous," Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan, vice-president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said in a Facebook post.
Later, in a statement issued by the CBCP on March 11, Bishop David urged Duterte to stop wasting time on such baseless allegations.
“I suggest that we go back to the real issues of the day,” said Bishop David, adding that the president should focus on the rising cases of the coronavirus in the Philippines.
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga said Cardinal Tagle enjoys a clean record with the Church. "All lies. Distortion of truth," CNN Philippines quoted him as saying. Cardinal Tagle's assignment in the Vatican "is a grace from God, a gift and blessing to the Philippines," he said.
Cardinal Tagle left Manila for the Vatican in February to take up office as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, also known as Propaganda Fide.
Duterte, known for his diatribes against the Catholic hierarchy, made his claim about Cardinal Tagle while speaking at the 2020 General Assembly of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines in Pasay City on March 10.
He also accused Cardinal Tagle of channeling church funds to finance the opposition Liberal Party of the Philippines and its supporters, including the Aquino political family. He referred to Liberal members as "yellows," a derogatory term used by Duterte and his supporters.
"See, they [the Church] used the money. They contributed to the yellows. Look at what happened. We do not have a bishop now. Don't you know? He was removed," Duterte said.
Duterte said Cardinal Tagle’s change of office was punishment for his meddling in politics. "We were only given a caretaker who is a priest. Manila has no more bishop. Pope Francis got angry because he [Tagle] meddled with politics," Duterte said.
Duterte was incorrect in his claim that Manila has no bishop. On Feb. 10, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Broderick Pabillo, auxiliary bishop of Manila, as the apostolic administrator of Manila Archdiocese.
Bishop Pabillo has been a vocal critic of the Duterte administration's war on drugs and the extrajudicial killings linked with it.
Duterte has a history of attacking church leaders in the Catholic-majority country. He once referred to Catholic bishops as "idiots" after they criticized the spate of drug-related killings. "You don't have to go to church to pay for these idiots," he said in a public speech in November 2018.
In his new role in Rome, Cardinal Tagle is responsible for evangelization in the global Church and the nomination of Catholic bishops in Asia, Africa and Oceania.
Pope Francis appointed him to the new office on Dec. 8, making him one of nine members of the powerful Roman Curia, the papal cabinet.