Updated: February 16, 2017 10:23 AM GMT
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte kisses the hand of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in a meeting in the presidential palace in July 2016. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office)
A "dark prophet" has come to rouse Philippine church leaders from a deep sleep and callousness, says a Filipino activist priest.
"What he says is very difficult to listen to," said Father Robert Reyes, referring to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
The Philippine president described Catholic priests and bishops last month as being full of dirt "who smell of corruption and all."
"I challenge you now. I challenge the Catholic Church," roared President Duterte, irked by the clergy's criticisms of his "total war" on illegal drugs that has killed some 7,000 people and moves to restore capital punishment.
"Quite a few of us priests and bishops deserve the cursing if it will purify us and wake us up from the slumber of forgetfulness of our vocation," Father Reyes said.
The priest, known for his penchant to literally run to attract attention on issues like poverty and human rights abuses, admitted that many Filipino clergy are "in a moral stupor" and "can't resist temptation."
Addressing Duterte, Father Reyes said, "You are the dark prophet waking up the church from her slumber, shaking us priests up from our moral turpitude."
Because of the president's harsh language and tendency to "curse from head to toe" many are afraid to speak up, said Father Reyes.
"It's about time those being cursed stop being afraid," he said.
He said the conscience of Filipinos, including church leaders, "is drowning in a sea of blood and violence, in a sea of fear, sea of indifference, sea of sinfulness."
"[It is] a sea of failing to go under the standard of Jesus because many are attracted to the standard of the devil held by the prophet of darkness," said Father Reyes.
The priest appealed to Catholics to voice their opposition to the killings and the revival of the death penalty, adding that, "when the conscience dies, people will die.
Amid the exchange of angry words between Duterte and some Catholic bishops, a group of church leaders has been holding backroom talks with presidential officials.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the bishops' conference, admitted in a media forum this week that the prelates have designated people "to keep communication lines open with the government."
"They are doing that pretty well," said Archbishop Villegas, who noted a need for "critical collaboration" with the government that offers "a level of openness ... because the government is still composed of Filipinos, and most of them Catholics."
The prelate said the bishops did not intend to attack Duterte with its Feb. 5 statement criticizing the spate of drug-related killings in the country, calling it a "reign of terror in many places of the poor."
"You will notice that we did not make any reference to [the presidential palace]. We did not make any reference to the president because we wanted to treat the issue of killings as a moral issue," said Archbishop Villegas.
He said, "it was certainly not our intention to bring down the president. We were saying, we your bishops see the situation as like this, and if you share our conviction, these are the things that we must do together.
The presidential palace welcomed Archbishop Villegas' statement, saying the spat between the president and church leaders can be resolved if the bishops "show goodwill."
"At the end of the day, anything is possible," said presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, adding that the initiative must come from the bishops.
"If they'd show this from the very beginning, maybe we would have a better working relationship. Of course, we welcome that. But, of course, at this particular stage, things have to be worked out," said Abella who refused to confirm talks with church leaders.
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