Challenge to Catholics: Time for appeasing Duterte is over

By: Fr. Amado L. Picardal

The threat of violence is meant to intimidate the leaders of the Church, to instill fear in their hearts so that they will remain silent and will not be a threat to his authoritarian rule.

“Kill your bishops, they are useless fools. All they do is criticize.”

This is what President Duterte told his audience in a speech in Malacañang on December 5. He also said that 90% of priests are gay and the Church should therefore not moralize.

Earlier on, he falsely accused Bishop Pablo David of stealing from the church’s offerings and suspected him of being an addict. He threatened that if he catches him involved in drugs, he will behead him. In another speech, Duterte told Catholics to stop going to church and build their own chapels at home.

Statements like these are unprecedented and something that no previous president in the Philippines or elsewhere in the world has ever done. These are statements that one do not expect from any sane government leader, not even in non-Christian countries much more in a great Catholic nation. No amount of spinning can justify this statement as just a joke.

After inspiring the police and death squads to commit extrajudicial killings, Duterte is inciting people to murder bishops. This deserves condemnation and should be added to the complaint against him in the International Criminal Court.

It appears that Duterte has stepped up his war on the Catholic Church in the Philippines which he regards as the enemy.

He already started doing this before being elected when he called Pope Francis son of a whore for the traffic caused during the papal visit in 2015. As President he continued his tirade against the Church calling her the most hypocritical institution that is full of shit.
He vowed to destroy the Church by exposing the abuses of the clergy. At one time he falsely accused Bishop Teodoro Bacani of having two wives. He declared that the Church will be irrelevant within 30 years.
In several speeches he declared that he doesn’t believe in the God of the Catholics – whom he called a stupid God due to the creation story in the Bible which he considered ridiculous. He has been distributing copies of the book Altar of Secrets.

Violent turn
His attack on the Church appeared to take a violent turn when 3 priests were killed one after another and while one was wounded. Another priest was able to evade an assassination attempt.

The President’s latest statement against Bishop David and other bishops indicate that the leaders of the Church, especially those critical against him, are fair targets for assassination. Being a priest or bishop will not keep one safe from the death squads.

What has become obvious is that Duterte is waging a war against the Church. The question is why is he doing this?

Many people believe that his controversial statements are simply a way of diverting the people’s attention from the real issues raised against him: the failed war on drugs – in spite of the extrajudicial killings that has reached of over 27,000 victims; the unchecked entry of tons of drugs into the country and the suspicion of the involvement of his own family; the worsening poverty, rising prices, rampant corruption; the sellout to China; the collapse of the peace process with the NDF, etc.

Led by Davao archbishop, CBCP defends Bishop David vs Duterte

Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles says he is ‘saddened and disturbed’ by President Rodrigo Duterte’s statements against Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David

His failure to address these problems has revealed his gross incompetence, greed and brutality. Others would see his behavior and statements as signs of physical and mental sickness worsened by drug abuse. He has admitted to using fentanyl – an opioid more addictive and powerful than heroin – and marijuana.

Others would say that he is just joking. Others believe that his hatred for the Church stem from adverse childhood experiences: of allegedly being molested by a priest and of being physically abused by his mother (who was very pious and close to priests and nuns).

Duterte’s war on the Church may also be traced to a mixture of fear and anger vis-a-vis the Church which he believes has a capacity to resist him and bring him down.

This is based on his awareness that the Catholic Church had a vital role in bringing down the Marcos dictatorship and also the Estrada presidency. Since becoming president, the Church – through the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and various religious groups – has criticized the culture of death, documented EJK, provided assistance to families of victims, given sanctuary to witnesses and assisted in the filing of complaints to the International Criminal Court.

The CBCP came out with several statements critical of the extrajudicial killings and upholding the value of life. The latest CBCP statement of concern in support of Bishop David could have led him to urge Catholics to kill their bishops. Instead of just venting his ire on Bishop David he has widened his target. The threat of violence is meant to intimidate the leaders of the Church, to instill fear in their hearts so that they will remain silent and will not be a threat to his authoritarian rule.

Church response

How should the Church leaders and the vast majority of the faithful respond to the attacks against the Church?

There is no need to be afraid. The Lord has promised that no power on earth can destroy the Church. For the last two thousand years the Church has survived crisis and persecutions and outlived kings and emperors who tried to destroy her.

In no way should this be seen as a struggle between the Church and State.

The Church should not be seen as an institution defending its interest or asserting its power. It is not a question of which one is more powerful. The Church must be prepared to become a powerless, persecuted Church.

It is time for Catholics to make a choice: to remain members of the Church or obey the president (stop going to church, build your own chapel, kill your bishops) – in other words, join the Iglesia ni Duterte. The time for appeasing Duterte is over. Dialogue with someone who intends to destroy the Church is futile.

When it comes to cases of clerical abuse, the Church should not be defensive or engage in cover-up. Those who are guilty of sexual abuse, financial anomalies and corruption should be held accountable. The prosecution of these cases will not weaken the Church but rather purify and strengthen her.

The Church should continue her mission as prophet and humble servant – speaking truth to power, promoting the gospel values of the sacredness of life, of justice and peace and of compassion. The clergy should inspire the lay faithful to be actively involved in the defense of life and human rights, in the peaceful struggle against corruption and injustice, in the work for the common good and the transformation of society.

The leaders of the Church, especially the bishops and priests, should be prepared to act as compassionate and courageous good shepherds, ready to offer their life as they prevent the slaughter of the flock especially the poor. They must be ready to embrace martyrdom if necessary.

Meanwhile, instead of engaging in a word war, the Church should just continue praying for Rodrigo Duterte – that he will repent and undergo conversion after finally listening to his conscience; that he will experience inner healing; that he will reconcile with the Church into which he was baptized; that he will become compassionate, that he will fulfill his promises; that he will make amends for whatever wrongs he has committed; that he will be ready to face judgment from either before the International Criminal Court or the Divine Judge whom he called stupid.

And when the time comes, let him rest in peace. Amen. –


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