Philippine church leaders open to dialogue with Duterte

Govt offers to talk amid spat over deadly war on drugs
Philippine church leaders open to dialogue with Duterte

Philippine Catholic bishops attend the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in Manila before their bi-annual meeting on Jan. 25. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

Catholic Church leaders in the Philippines have welcomed a government offer of dialogue despite President Rodrigo Duterte condemning bishops and priests for criticizing his war on drugs. 

Father Jerome Secillano of the public affairs office of the bishops' conference said it would be "prudent" for both sides "to really sit together and take a collective action."

"If only for the bickering to stop and not further inflict undue harm on each other which has caused division already," said the priest.

On Jan. 20, Ernesto Abella, the president's spokesman, called on church leaders to "go beyond the criticisms."

"Let's try to reach out to one another and have a real dialogue and real conversation. Let's try to go beyond this," said Abella.

"I would encourage the good bishops to have a dialogue. Let's talk," he said.

Father Secillano said it was "a good thing the palace has taken that initiative" although he said he "cannot predict the response of the church hierarchy."

"It has to be collegial, hence a decision of not one but majority of the bishops," said the priest.


Duterte's latest tirades

Duterte challenged church leaders last week to stop criticizing his campaign against narcotics and instead take on the problem.

Several church leaders have issued statements condemning the death of some 6,700 people as a result of the government's campaign against illegal drugs.

"I really can't understand the church," said Duterte. He said church leaders know the seriousness of the drug problem in the country but are not doing anything.

He then said that instead of criticizing the anti-drugs war, the bishops should address issues within the institution, like sex abuse, homosexuality, and corruption.

"When you expose the frailties of your faithful, you are free to shout in the pulpit. But if it's about you, you're exempted. What's that?" said Duterte.

Sign up to receive UCAN Daily Full Bulletin
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
Abella later said the president was particularly irked at former Bishop Teodoro Bacani of Novaliches who earlier labeled the anti-illegal drugs campaign a "bringer of death."

The 77-year-old bishop was one of the Catholic Church leaders mentioned in a book that exposed alleged irregularities committed by Filipino clergy.

In the book Altar of Secrets Bishop Bacani is said to have admitted to having made 'inappropriate advances' to his secretary.

Bishop Bacani resigned as Novaliches bishop because of the controversy.


Churchmen not perfect

Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa admitted that some church leaders have committed mistakes, but said "even a sick doctor must still try to cure ailments of others and, of course, his too."

He said bishops and priests "who hide serious misdeeds are harming the church by their infidelities." 

Archbishop Arguelles called on authorities who have "concrete evidence of misdeeds" to report them so that church leaders can "clean the ranks."

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga said the church is always open to dialogue, but it will not stop from preaching the Gospel and the church's "pro-life" stand.

"You listen to them, present everything, and let's observe what are the things that we can work on together and things that we are going to avoid," said the prelate.

He said a dialogue is "always the better solution to anything" but he added that the church will not be silent on the killings and the revival of the death penalty.

Archbishop Arguelles said church leaders "are supposed to proclaim what is right and proper even if they themselves fall short of what they teach."

© Copyright 2019, All rights reserved
© Copyright 2019, Union of Catholic Asian News Limited. All rights reserved
Expect for any fair dealing permitted under the Hong Kong Copyright Ordinance.
No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without prior permission.