MANILA - Malacañang on Tuesday said President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirades against the Catholic Church should not be linked to violent attacks against the religious institution and its followers.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo stressed this as the nation reeled from the bombing of a cathedral in Jolo, Sulu on Sunday, which left 21 people dead and more than 100 injured.
Asked whether the President's brash rhetoric and threats against the Church may have incited violence against Catholics, Panelo said: “Oh definitely not."
"In fact, the President is outraged. He’s so angry that they have not respected a place of worship – that’s why he declared war against all these perpetrators,” Panelo told reporters in a presser.
Panelo argued that Duterte’s criticism, among them recurring allegations of corruption and sexual abuse against priests and bishops, is only aimed at erring members of the Catholic clergy.
“It helps in cleansing the institution of its members. But if you say that the President’s criticism of them would embolden others to disrespect the Church, I don’t think so,” he said.
He said a person who attacks places of worship is one who most likely harbors disdain against the Catholic religion.
“Those who will attack places of worship especially with the Catholics are doing it because they do not believe in that religion,” Panelo said.
“In other words, they are disrespecting precisely the religion. It’s directed against... to my mind, apart from challenging the capability of this government to secure the safety of the citizenry, it is also showing its utmost disrespect to this religion.”
Panelo also defended the President anew after the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a pastoral statement that seemed to respond to the chief executive’s tirades against the Catholic clergy and its doctrines.
CBCP: 'CRUEL WORDS' CUT LIKE 'SHARP DAGGERS'
Without directly mentioning the President, the prelates noted 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 said.
While several bishops have retaliated to Duterte's violent rhetoric against the Church hierarchy, the CBCP as a body had not released any official statement about the issue until this pastoral letter.
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 religions.
"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 criticism 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, the clergy may also be at fault.
"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.
Panelo, meanwhile, stressed that the President only hits certain members of the clergy for being “hypocritical” and that nothing could stop him from issuing such attacks in the future because he enjoys freedom of expression.
In August last year, the President called the entire Catholic Church "the most hypocritical institution."
The President has also called "God" stupid, called the Holy Trinity "silly," and urged people to stop going to church, among other statements.
Panelo said it's all part of free speech.
“It’s still part of the freedom of expression. I said, he is not attacking the Church – he is just criticizing certain immoral acts of some members of the Church,” he said.
“Nobody can stop him from saying his mind on certain matters that he feels are wrong.”
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.