MANILA - The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is asking for forgiveness for taking its time to react on the attacks against the Church.
In a pastoral letter released on Monday after a three-day assembly, the bishops said they are aware that many have been wondering why the group has kept "a collective silence" amid the many tirades against its clergy and Catholic doctrines.
"Forgive us for the length of time that it took us to find our collective voice," the CBCP said in a letter entitled "Conquering Evil with Good."
"We too needed to be guided properly in prayer and discernment before we could guide you."
The bishops said they have observed how the "culture of violence" has gradually prevailed in the country, noting the recent bombing of the cathedral in Jolo where dozens were killed.
Without directly mentioning the president, the prelates also admitted that they have been on the receiving end of "cruel words" piercing through the soul of the Church like "sharp daggers."
"We have silently noted these painful instances with deep sorrow and prayed over them. We have taken our cue from Pope Francis who tells us that in some instances, 'the best response is silence and prayer,'" the bishops added.
While several bishops have retaliated to President Rodrigo Duterte's violent rhetoric against the Church hierarchy, the CBCP as a body has not released any official statement about the issue until this pastoral letter.
Duterte, born and raised a Catholic, continues to assail the Church hierarchy and its doctrines despite several attempts at reconciliation.
From criticisms of the Church's call for donations and alms to accusations of sexual abuse, the president has not shied away from issuing sharp words, including a call to "kill" some bishops.
The CBCP clarified that it respects people of other faiths, including former Catholic Christians "who may have already renounced their faith."
Nevertheless, the bishops insisted that freedom of expression does not include a license to insult other people's faith.
"We know that this cuts deeply into the souls of our people—especially the poor, because faith is the only thing they have to hold on to. It gives them hope and strength to continue living and working despite all the odds that come their way," the prelates said.
Addressing the criticisms against the Church, the bishops admitted that they have their own share of failures, especially in cases of sexual abuse.
The CBCP also noted that when people do not understand the doctrines of the Church, they also have themselves to blame
"It could also mean we have failed in our preaching. Perhaps we have not been effective enough in our catechesis about the faith? Perhaps we should find better and more appropriate ways of communicating the faith," the bishops said.
NOT AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT
The CBCP also sought to clarify that they are not interfering with the affairs of the state, especially in the government's effort to fight illegal drugs
"We do respect the fact that it is the government’s duty to maintain law and order and to protect its citizens from lawless elements. We have long acknowledged that illegal drugs are a menace to society," the bishops said.
However, the CBCP said it was when mostly poor people are being "brutally murdered on mere suspicion of being small-time drug users and peddlers" that have started speaking up against the government's campaign. The conference also noted how "big-time smugglers and drug lords went scot-free."
In this cases, the bishops insisted that it is their solemn duty to defend their flock.
"Everyone in the civilized community of nations would agree that even those who may have committed criminal offenses should be treated in a humane way, even as justice demands that they be held accountable for their actions," the group said.
The bishops also called on legislators to rethink their position on lowering the age of criminal liability.