The presumptive Philippine president-elect has launched a verbal attack on the country’s dominant Church as “the most hypocritical institution" and accused some of its bishops of corruption for allegedly asking favours from politicians, including him.
In a late-night news conference that dragged on to the early hours of Sunday in southern Davao city, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte questioned the relevance of Catholic bishops, citing his overwhelming victory in the May 9 presidential election based on an unofficial count despite efforts by them to persuade Filipinos not to vote for him.
Such harsh public condemnation of the influential Church and its bishops by a top politician is rare in the Philippines, Asia’s bastion of Catholicism.
It presages a potentially thorny relationship between the Church and the incoming president, who shocked bishops in November when he criticised Pope Francis for sparking a huge traffic jam that trapped him for hours during a visit to Manila. Duterte apologised after bishops denounced his action. During the campaign, Duterte said he warned Catholics they may go to hell if they voted for him because bishops have criticised him as immoral partly for advocating the killing of criminals. Millions of Filipinos, however, still voted for him in the election, which he said served like a referendum.
“Look, were you able to stop me?" Duterte asked, citing his lead of more than six million votes over his closest rival.
The mayor then turned to the bishops, accusing some of them of violating their vow of celibacy by getting married or keeping women and seeking favours such as cars from politicians.
Once, he said without elaborating, Church officials whom he did not identify forced him to take steps as a mayor so they could obtain a real estate property in a residential enclave.
Those acts amounted to corruption and violated the Philippine constitutional edict of separation of Church and state, according to the brash Duterte, who is known for his vulgarity, sex jokes and devil-may-care irreverence.
“Some people here in the Philippines can’t even afford to have food to eat or get medicine while you’re enjoying the money of the goddamn people," Duterte said. “Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves, you sons of bitches?"
“You know," Duterte said, “the most hypocritical institution is the Catholic Church."
Until a day before his inauguration as president on June 30, Duterte said he would continue to publicly disclose “the sins of the Catholic Church and whether or not you are still relevant," promising to be more circumspect after his proclamation. Duterte says he believes in God but doesn’t believe in religion.
Church officials were not immediately available for comment.
They have, however, criticised Duterte for cursing the Pope, his public vows to kill criminals, his publicly acknowledged adultery and vulgarity.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who heads the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said killing people, adultery and vulgarity were all forms of corruption and asked if Duterte deserved the term “honourable" after he cursed the Pope, which sparked laughter among the mayor’s followers.
“When a revered and loved and admired man like Pope Francis is cursed by a political candidate and the audience laughs, I can only bow my head and grieve in great shame," Villegas said last year. “My countrymen have gone to the dregs."
Last month, after Duterte joked about wanting to be the first in line to rape an Australian missionary who was gang raped and killed by inmates in a 1989 Davao jail riot, Villegas shared a link of Duterte’s videotaped remarks on his Twitter account. He wrote, “Judge for yourself if this is the right choice. … This video can help."
Duterte has also openly called for the use of contraceptives, which the Catholic Church staunchly opposes, offering cash to Davao city residents who agree to undergo ligation and vasectomy. He said would also push for a three-child policy, though he did not explain how this would be implemented.