The Philippine president meets with head of conference, even as prelates react to "arrogant" utterances
In the midst of continuing controversy over remarks by the president of the Philippines that have offended many Christians, the country’s Catholic bishops have called for prayer and penance in reparation for blasphemy.
In a statement issued Monday, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called for “God’s mercy and justice on those who have blasphemed God’s Holy Name, those who slander and bear false witness, and those who commit murder or justify murder as a means for fighting criminality in our country.”
Although the statement did not name any one individual, President Rodrigo Duterte has made profanity-laced public pronouncements questioning God’s existence and ridiculing the Catholic concept of “original sin.” The brash statements in a country that has Asia’s largest Catholic population set off a firestorm.
To “those who arrogantly regard themselves as wise in their own estimation and the Christian faith as nonsense, those who blaspheme our God as stupid, Saint Paul’s words are to the point: ‘For the stupidity of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength,’” the bishops wrote.
The bishops are calling for three days of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, beginning July 16.
On the same day the bishops issued the statement—at the end of a plenary meeting in Manila—Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the bishops conference, accepted an invitation to meet with Duterte. During the 30-minute private meeting at the presidential palace, known as Malacañang, Duterte agreed to a moratorium on statements about the Church, the Philippine Star reported.
Last week, Duterte said he would resign immediately if someone could prove that the “God” of Christians exists. In spite of that challenge, he suggested that there must be a supreme being that prevents celestial bodies from colliding and threatening the human race.
It was last week, in a speech to a scientific society, that Duterte spoke frankly about his skepticism about the concept of original sin.
“Who is this stupid God? This son of a bitch is then really stupid,” he said. “You were not involved but now you’re stained with an original sin … What kind of a religion is that? That’s what I can’t accept, very stupid proposition.”
Roque, in defending remarks, said Duterte has the right to express his opinion on and cited his previous disclosure that he was once sexually abused by a priest, the Associated Press reported. On Friday, Duterte said he and other students were fondled by a foreign Jesuit priest, who has since died.
Duterte has formed a four-man committee to reach out to religious groups offended by his remarks.
He also asked religious leaders to be “neutral” when it comes to the government because of the separation of church and state.
But at a dinner hosted by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Sunday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque met with 18 bishops and discussed state-church relations.
“There was of course a general consensus that the church and state should work together in upholding the general welfare of the people,” Roque said.
Roque said he spoke during the dinner about the fact that Duterte shares the bishops’ opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and divorce, according to the Star.
The Star continued:
Amid the attacks and differences of opinion, the CBCP yesterday gave assurance it is willing to work in critical collaboration with the Duterte administration.
At the end of its three-day 117th Plenary Assembly, the CBCP issued a two-page pastoral exhortation titled “Rejoice and Be Glad” where it mentioned that throughout history, the Catholic Church has co-existed with various forms of government and collaborated with various leaders.
It draws the line and would not compromise, however, when it comes to the core teachings of the Catholic Church.
“The Church respects the political authority, especially of democratically elected government officials, as long as they do not contradict the basic spiritual and moral principles we hold dear, such as the sacredness of life, the integrity of creation and the inherent dignity of the human person,” Valles said on behalf of the CBCP.
He also clarified that since they are neither political leaders nor political opponents, they could work with the government toward achieving a common goal – they have been partners of government units, such as the barangays or the local government, several times, especially in addressing the needs of those who are most disadvantageous in society.
“Sometimes, we qualify collaboration as ‘critical,’ mainly to distinguish our differences in terms of ultimate goals, even as we partner in some shared endeavors. Needless to say, on some specific issues, collaboration might not be possible because of our spiritual and moral beliefs, which we persistently propose, but never impose on the unwilling. In such instances, we can only invoke our right to conscientious objection,” Valles said.
The CBCP president also said they recognize the constitutional provision on the separation of church and state.
“When we speak out on certain issues, it is always from the perspective of faith and morals, especially the principles of social justice, never within any political or ideological agenda in mind,” he explained.
And for those who have called God “stupid,” Valles said “a good number of people are pained by this” but the prelates reminded the people that they should take comfort in the words of St. Paul: “For the stupidity of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
But it is not just Duterte’s words that concern the Church. The president has been waging a war on drugs, and it is quite literally a war, with extreme measures such as killing suspects on sight, without a judicial process. The Wall Street Journal reported that the church has spoken out the high number of killings and calling for restraint. Some church leaders have offered sanctuary to drug suspects and witnesses to police shootings who are fearful for their lives.
One Filipino political figure, Senator Leila de Lima, has suggested the Duterte’s comments about God are diversionary tactics to shift the conversation away from the extrajudicial killings, according to Filipino website Politiko.
“He diverts our attention from the crises of peace and order and governance he has created by engaging in senseless and deeply offensive rants on religion,” de Lima said. Duterte’s “indifference to the killings and preoccupation with issues on religion is bizarrely stranger than fiction.”