MANILA—President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday insisted that he respects the Catholic Church and its leaders, even as he continued linking some clergy members to alleged illicit affairs.
Critics have been saying that Duterte’s tirades against priests and the Catholic Church have emboldened killers of 3 Catholic priests slain in the last 6 months.
The President has denied persecuting the clergy and said he cannot order their killings.
“Wala kaming policy na galit kami sa pari, nothing of the sort. As a matter of fact, nirerespeto ko ang Simbahan,” he said in a speech in Mandurriao district, Iloilo City.
“Sa totoo lang hindi ko kayang magpatay ng pari, pati na babae at bata.”
(We don’t have a policy against priests, nothing of the sort. As a matter of fact, I respect the Church. The truth is, I cannot order the killing of priests, women and children.)
Fathers Marcelito Paez, Richmond Nilo and Mark Anthony Ventura were all killed in the past 6 months, sparking outrage among the Catholic faithful and human rights groups.
Duterte earlier said that Ventura’s supposed affairs could be the reason behind his killing, an allegation condemned by priests and prelates who knew the Cagayan-based priest.
DUTERTE PAUSES DURING SPEECH AS BELLS TOLL
In an earlier speech in Cabatuan town, Iloilo, the President was bringing up the same matter when bells from a nearby church suddenly began tolling. He then paused for less than a minute to wait for the bells to stop tolling.
As the President brought up the matter, bells from a nearby church began tolling. He then paused for less than a minute to wait for the bells to stop tolling.
“Angelus iyon? May dasal kayo n’yan? If there’s a Catholic here, magdasal tayo baka magalit ang pari,” he said.
The President said he has information about certain slain priests, but he has chosen not to divulge it to spare the Church from embarrassment.
“I don’t want to create a scene but I have my duty. I’m a Christian, and I believe in God. I respect the tolling of the bells,” he said.
The President has accused the Catholic hierarchy of pretending to be “saints” despite their transgressions while labeling the police and soldiers as demons.
Duterte has been vocal about his grievances against the Catholic leadership in the Philippines, some of whom have been staunch critics of his war on drugs.
Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ public affairs committee, said it is better for priests and Church officials to use the President's tirades against them as an opportunity to improve themselves.
"This is my own take on the matter. I will not engage him in a word war because engaging him in a word war will only worsen the matter," he told ANC.