CBCP breaks silence on Duterteâs tirades: We must learn to be brave
Catholic Archbishop of Davao, and president of Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Romulo Valles (C) speaks while fellow bishops Pablo Virgilio David (L) of the archdiocese of Manila, and Antonio Ledesma of the archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro (R) listen during a press conference in Manila on January 28, 2019.
Ted Aljibe/Agence France-Presse
CBCP breaks silence on Duterte’s tirades: We must learn to be brave
Ryan Macasero (Philstar.com) - January 28, 2019 - 6:48pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines broke its silence on the constant verbal attacks by President Rodrigo Duterte on the Catholic Church on Monday. 

The episcopal conference issued a statement through the CBCP news. They said that while they are aware church members have been waiting for guidance on how to deal with the attacks on their faith, “we too needed to be guided properly in prayer and discernment before we could guide you.”

'Best response is silence and prayer'

While the statement addresses key issues related to tensions between church leaders and the president, they did not address Duterte by name. 

There was only one instance where the CBCP addressed the president directly, and that was after he cursed Pope Francis in 2015 prior to his presidential campaign.

READ: A look at the Church's 'tirades' vs Duterte

While some church leaders have spoken out against the president’s attacks individually, this is the first official response by the CBCP. “We have taken our cue from Pope Francis who tells us that in some instances, ‘…the best response is silence and prayer,’” they said. 

Only rarely does the CBCP address politicians directly, and even more rarely do they mention the name’s of government leaders. 

The only other time the church addressed one other president prior to Duterte was when it condemned the results of the February 1986 snap election as fraudulent.

Although they did not name late dictator Ferdinand Marcos — who was the official winner in the election —  in the statement, they alluded that power assumed “through fraudulent means has no moral basis.”

The statement follows the twin bombings of a Catholic Church in Jolo, Sulu, that killed at least 20 people and injured at least 97 others on Sunday. 

The president earlier said he was angered and disappointed over the bombings. 

READ: Duterte 'angered, disappointed' by Jolo blast

No license to insult

While the CBCP said they respect people who may have left the Church because of the differences with the administration, they said that “freedom of expression does not include a license to insult other people’s faith, especially our core beliefs.”

In his past speeches, Duterte has accused bishops of living luxurious lifestyles, womanizing, corruption, among other accusations. While Catholic Church leaders often hit the president for the war on drugs, alleged human rights abuses and violent rhetoric. 

Duterte frequently brings the book “Altar of Secrets” by the investigative journalist Aries Rufo to public events —  a book that brought to light alleged corruption and sex scandals in the Philippine Catholic Church —  to make his point about his belief that the Church is being hypocritical when it criticizes his administration. 

The president said that he is “willing to be crucified” if priests could dispute allegations in Rufo’s book. 

But Rufo, who passed away in 2013, was a practicing Catholic and senior investigative reporter at news site Rappler, said in 2013 that he didn’t write the book to “destroy” the Church as some hardline Catholics had accused him of in the past. 

READ: Palace on 'word war' between Duterte, Church: Let it be

“We try to portray a Church that is divine and human as well, a local Church trying its best to institute reforms. Taking baby steps to respond to the changing times without compromising its principles and dogma,” he said. 

Church a 'human institution'

The bishops acknowledged in the statement that the institution they lead is not perfect. 

They said: "Like the leaders and members of any other human institution, no doubt, we, your bishops and priests have our own share of failures and shortcomings as well. We have already mentioned in our previous statement that ‘we bow in shame when we hear of abuses committed by some of (us)…’, that ‘we hold ourselves accountable for their actions, and accept our duty to correct them.’”

Duterte had previously said he would not stop attacking the institution until it “corrects itself.”

But the church said that it would not let-up in speaking out against policies that are not aligned with the Catholic faith. 

"As bishops, we have no intention of interfering in the conduct of State affairs,” the statement read. “But neither do we intend to abdicate our sacred mandate as shepherds to whom the Lord has entrusted his flock.”

Not against war on drugs

The letter said, however, that they are not necessarily against the administration’s war on drugs itself.

“It was when we started hearing of mostly poor people being brutally murdered on mere suspicion of being small-time drug users and peddlers while the big-time smugglers and drug lords went scot-free, that we started wondering about the direction this “drug war” was taking.”

It was only in January 2017 when the CBCP said it would start speaking out against the state’s record on human rights abuses in the war on drugs. 

“The church right now is asserting its influence, that’s why in the coming months the church will be at the forefront in leading against extrajudicial killings,” said Fr. Jerome Secillano, the CBCP’s public affairs chief to reporters then.

By 2018, attacks on the church became a part of almost every public speech of Duterte’s.

The letter was signed by CBCP President and Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, who had called himself a friend of Duterte’s in the past. 

Perspective of mercy

Also addressed in the letter was the issue of lowering the age of criminal responsibility, which was passed in the third and final reading in the House of Representatives on Monday.

READ: House bill OKs lowering of criminal responsibility to 12 on final reading

“There is no way we can call ourselves a civilized society if we hold children in conflict with the law criminally liable,” the letter read. 

The statement said that from the "perspective of mercy," being civilized is not only about advancements in technology and infrastructure “but about being more humane to the poor." 

It added, “the weak, the disadvantaged, the elderly, the children, those with special needs and all those who tend to be left out in society.”

Conquering good with evil

In its final section titled “conquering good with evil,” the letter said that “the battle we fight our spiritual.”

The letter concluded that “as members of God’s flock, we must learn to be brave, to stick together, and look after one another.” 

“Let this moment be a time to pray, to be strong, wise, and committed. Let this be also a teaching moment for us all — a moment for relearning the core beliefs, principles and values of our faith, and what it means to be a Catholic Christian at this time,” it said. 

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