In this Sept. 16, 2016 file photo, President Rodrigo Duterte prays during the Mass at a wedding at San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila.
MANILA, Philippines — He has spewed vulgar attacks against bishops, accused priests of immorality and described the Catholic Church as “full of s***” but President Duterte wants a “non-adversarial” relationship with the religious group, his spokesman said on Thursday.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the president is open to criticisms “if it were not adversarial coming from a moral high horse.”
“Basically what he (Duterte) is saying is, ‘Hey, we are all sinners here, right?'” Abella said at a press briefing at Malacañan Palace.
“We can all cooperate in the work but not from a place where somebody else is saying, ‘I’m better than you,’ ‘I am holier than you.’ That seems to be where he’s coming from. That he would like more collegiality, that he would appreciate more collegiality between institutions,” he added.
Abella said there is no need to have an adversarial relationship because “we are all referring to simply one country” and “are all building up one nation.”
The Catholic Church has raised concerns over the spate of killings linked to the Duterte administration’s war on drugs and has urged authorities to promote the sanctity of life.
The remarks drew the ire of the president, who fought back by enumerating the corruption and sex scandals involving the clergy. Duterte, however, went beyond the scandals and accused priests of having bad breath and having dirty hands when giving communion.
Despite Duterte’s personal attacks and angry rhetoric, Abella said the president does not intend to silence the church.
“Like I said, he (Duterte) is open to criticism. But we do not approach the situation at hand from an adversarial (position),” the president’s spokesman said.
“We are not enemies. We can be critical of one another, but we are not enemies. We only have one nation. So we’re both interested in doing these things but we cannot do this from an adversarial position.”
Asked if it was necessary for the president to use personal tirades – like accusing a bishop of having two wives – to deliver his point, Abella said: “I don’t know if you call it necessary but it certainly adds color to the conversation, right?”
“But I mean, no, I mean, he’s not trying to be colorful, that’s what I’m saying. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m simply saying that he’s bringing out certain aspects of the ‘dialogue’ between the two of them that really, from the President’s point of view, don’t approach me from a moral high horse, moral high horse,” he added.
“He’s not trying to silence them. He’s just trying to say, as far as we can see, to have a more collegial (conversation). Let’s talk as co-equals.”
Duterte has accused former Novaliches bishop Teodoro Bacani of having two wives just like him but this was denied by the retired prelate. The president made the accusation after Bacani described the government’s anti-drug war as a “bringer of death.”
Abella said church leaders could have sent out feelers to Duterte instead of criticizing the president in public.
When asked if the president is willing to make the first move towards a non-adversarial relationship with the Church, Abella said: “The one who seems to have moral ascendancy, who says it more, should be the one to reach out, you know.”
“Sabi ko nga, wala namang matigas na tinapay sa mainit na kape hindi ba. So mag-usap tayo (No bread stays hard when soaked in coffee. So let’s talk),” he added.
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