Bishop answers back at Duterte

By Mar S. Arguelles LEGAZPI CITY --- The Bishop of the Diocese of Legazpi has issued on Saturday a pastoral statement assailing President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirades against the Roman Catholic church. Bishop Joel Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi, in his pastoral letter, said the President has crossed the line by disrespecting religious freedom and attacking Church leaders. Baylon said, “President Duterte called God stupid after inventing fake story of creation that is different from that found in the Bible.” Duterte, as he deems himself to be one of Catholic faith, has committed blasphemy by taunting the church for teaching false doctrines, even saying that he believes in a different God, one that has common sense, while the God that the Church teaches is stupid, the Bishop statement said. The reading of the pastoral letter started on last Saaturday’s 5:30 anticipated mass until Sunday’s major masses in 47 churches across the province, according to Father Rex Arjona, executive director of the Diocese Social Action Center (SAC). Churches in the diocese hold at least six Holy Masses during Sundays, he said. Baylon told the Bicol Mail that the pastoral statement reflects the church common stand regarding the recent statement of the President as well as our urgent plea for him to instead focus on and address the more telling and important problems facing the country. Baylon urges parishioners not to be misled by Duterte’s rants against the church and religion, saying “The Church and its faithful ministers – clergy and laity alike – stand by this teaching in the face of the thousands killed in the war on drugs and the steady barrage of disinformation that pollutes all forms of media.” He said the threats and shames on the Catholic Church is a smoke screen so that the Church leaders would stop opposing the justification of killing and proliferation of fake news. The Bishops pastoral statement said, “we welcome the offer of dialogue between the government and various churches, as long as the gesture is sincere.” He said the dialogue will be effective if there will be more listening and less defensiveness from both sides. “It will be fruitful if it leads to President Duterte pursuing a categorical commitment to stop the killing and disinformation, respecting human rights and democratic institutions. Otherwise, it will be just another tool for propaganda,” he said. The Bishop in his parting statement said, “we assure the President that we are praying for him, so that he may be enlightened and find the courage to face the demanding task of leading our nation to true progress unity and peace.” Meanwhile, bells in all Catholic churches would continue to toll every night at 9:00 p.m. in Albay churches. The ringing of bells signifies the church opposition to how the government handles its campaign against illegal drugs where thousands of suspected illegal drug personalities, most of them poor, have been killed by government enforcers.