MANILA - Besieged by criticisms from President Rodrigo Duterte, Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas asserted Monday that clergymen are not afraid of the sharp-tongued leader.
"We are only afraid of sin, we are not even afraid of God because I know God loves me so much, I have no reason to be afraid of Him," Villegas said during a forum with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
"The Church is only afraid of sin because sin separates us from God. All the others are manageable."
Villegas, however, clarified that he is not picking a fight with the President nor implying that they are equals.
"There is only one that makes us afraid and that is sin. All the others, if God is with us, no one, nothing can ever be against us."
Duterte has insulted Catholic Church leaders who have opposed his bloody war on drugs, his backing of the Reproductive Health Law, and his move to revive the death penalty.
The President has also dubbed the Catholic Church as "the most hypocritical institution," and alleged that he was once molested by a Jesuit priest.
Addressing these tirades, Villegas said that though the Church has always been marred by the sinfulness of its members, the 2,000 year-old institution derives its holiness from Christ, not its leaders.
Clergymen, Villegas said, are open to receiving criticism so long as these are coupled with a "challenge to be better."
"Kapag sinabi mo sa katabi mo na hindi maganda ang damit, pero ang resulta nun ay na-discourage na, nawala na ang self-esteem, hindi maganda iyun. Pero 'pag sinabi mo sa katabi mong ito ang suggestion ko para gumanda ang appeal mo, you give that person hope," he said.
"Iyun ang pakiusap ko, na sana, kung magko-correct tayo, bibigyan natin ang bawat isa ng pag-asa -- hindi iyung sugatan na, marumi na, sisipain pa natin."
The Church is also willing to cooperate with the government and hopes the administration could acknowledge the "little good things we have contributed to the country as we also recognize the many good things they have done," Villegas said.