MANILA - Catholicism in the Philippines is under attack by the highest elected official in the land, and it's time for the Church to stand its ground.
This was the response of Balanga, Bataan Bishop Ruperto Santos to Malacañang's recent statement that members of the Catholic clergy angered by President Rodrigo Duterte's tirades should know better than fire back.
In an interview with Radio Veritas on Friday, Santos said the Church could no longer be silent against attacks and threats of the President, not only to its leaders but also to its doctrines.
"Catholicism in the Philippines is under attack, ironically, from the highest governing official of the land. The Philippine Church is in a stance where it has to defend its faith and beliefs. Enough is enough," the prelate said.
Earlier, Santos said Duterte's presidency is a disgrace and a disappointment to the country.
This prompted Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo to fire back, saying Santos' words were unbecoming of a bishop. Panelo also reminded Santos of a Christian teaching that says one should throw a piece of bread to someone who casts a stone.
While the bishop agreed that the Bible indeed teaches the faithful to reject revenge and retaliation, Santos said this does not mean that the Church would turn a deaf ear to Duterte's "verbal abuses."
“We believers, must not sit passively in one corner and let the tirades go on. We have voiced our opinions,” the prelate added.
Meanwhile, Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes agreed that the Church cannot sit idly by while the President is spewing violent rhetoric against the clergy.
The bishop said these things should be taken seriously and should not be dismissed as mere jokes.
"We cannot allow blasphemous things to be uttered. It’s a serious thing. We simply cannot be silent. Whether we like it or not, those things are not a joke. For me, those are not a joke," Bastes said.
"There is an ancient proverb saying that from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, if the mouth speaks evil inside his heart is evil. A man cannot speak words that are bad, unless his heart is also bad."
Despite Duterte's tirades, Bastes said Filipinos should continue praying for the President.
The word war between Duterte and the country's Church hierarchy could be traced back to the 2016 presidential campaign when Duterte, during one of his campaign speeches, cursed at Pope Francis.
The then mayor of Davao City was talking about the traffic gridlock caused by the pontiff's apostolic visit to the Philippines in 2015.
The exchange of tirades intensified at the height of the government's bloody war against illegal drugs, where thousands of drug suspects have been killed in police operations.
The President, on the other hand, has questioned the story of creation and the Holy Trinity, tagged Church leaders in corruption, and hit sexual abuse allegedly committed by priests, while suggesting that he himself was a victim.
In July 2018, Duterte held a one-on-one meeting with Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the CBCP and a friend of the Duterte family.
While Duterte promised to stop issuing statements about the Church after the dialogue, he has continued hurling criticism, expletives, and threats against the Church hierarchy.