President Rodrigo Duterte has created a three-man committee to hold a dialogue with Catholic and other religious group leaders days after he called God stupid even as the Chief Executive confessed to deliberately “shaking the tree” and testing the boundaries of free expression to get the country out of the doldrums.
“I am doing it deliberately. You know why? This country is in the doldrums. I am shaking the tree to see that they are alive. I am shaking the tree so even my words are rude and I am trying to see the boundaries [of free expression],” the President said in his speech before newly-elected barangay chairpersons in Zamboanga del Sur on Tuesday.
Duterte faced growing outrage on Tuesday after calling God “stupid.”
He maintained that his God has a “universal mind” while the God of his critics is “stupid.”
“Your God is not my God because your God is stupid,” the President said.
Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque said he will be part of the three-man committee to dialog with religious leaders, along with Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella and political strategist Pastor “Boy” Saycon Jr.
“The theme will be how to lessen the rift between the government and Church,” Roque told reporters.
Roque said before the panel was created, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches proposed that a dialogue be held between Duterte and religious leaders.
CBCP president Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles welcomed the proposed dialogue with the government, saying that listening to one another is always good.
But Manila Archbishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on the Laity, said the dialogue was merely Duterte’s tactic to diffuse the anger over his attack on God.
Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, meanwhile, said Duterte must have been absent when the story of creation was taught in school.
“What the President is criticizing is his own interpretation of the Bible,” David said in Filipino in a Facebook post.”That’s not what the Catholic Church teaches.”
David also said Duterte should not insult Catholic doctrine if he doesn’t believe it.
Duterte has previously attacked Catholic Church leaders who have opposed his bloody war on drugs, his backing of the Reproductive Health Law, and his move to revive the death penalty.
The President has also dubbed the Catholic Church as “the most hypocritical institution,” and alleged that he was once molested by a Jesuit priest.
Roque said the government initiated the discussion with the Catholic Church leaders, who have strained ties with the President.
“The President has appointed yours truly, along with Boy Saycon and Usec. Ernie Abella, to be part of the committee that will negotiate and hold a dialogue not only with the Catholic Church but also to all groups who seek a dialogue with the government,” Roque told reporters in a press briefing.
“We will start the dialogue with the Catholic Church,” he said.
The Palace appealed to the public to support the meeting and let the dialogue proceed.
Roque said Saycon is now communicating with the CBCP to formally open a dialogue with the Church leaders.
Duterte took aim at the biblical creation story during a speech, raising the question of why God would create Adam and Eve and then expose them to temptation.
Original Sin is something Christian theologians have struggled to explain for two millennia. Duterte opted for characteristically colorful language as he broached this thorny catechism.
“Who is this stupid God?” he asked on Friday. “You created something perfect and then you think of an event that would tempt and destroy the quality of your work.”
Leaders of the Catholic Church have condemned the statement.
“How can he be a President for all Filipinos if he does not have respect for the Catholic faithful?”, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David wrote on Facebook.
The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches joined in the denunciation on Tuesday, saying it is “completely inappropriate for our nation’s president to derisively curse at the God of the Christian faith who is deeply worshipped… by a majority of Filipinos.”
Duterte defended his comments in a speech on Monday.
Duterte has locked horns repeatedly with the nation’s historically powerful Catholic Church, especially over its criticism of his deadly narcotics crackdown that has killed thousands.
He has also repeatedly used speeches to attack Australian nun Patricia Fox, who faces deportation proceedings over allegations she violated the terms of her visa by engaging in human rights activism.
Watchdogs have voiced concerns that the drug war killings have encouraged an environment of impunity in the Philippines that has spilled over into areas unrelated to narcotics.
Three priests have been slain since December, including one who was shot dead inside his church as he prepared to hold a Mass.
Those killings sparked debate over whether clergymen should be armed for their own protection, a proposal the Church pushed back against.
The furor surrounding Duterte’s comments on God follows a string of foul-mouthed insults against world leaders and institutions since he came to power two years ago.
He called then US president Barack Obama a “son of a whore” and leveled a similar insult at Pope Francis, while branding the European Union “stupid” over its criticism of his drug war. With AFP