President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, one of the world’s most populous Catholic countries, used the occasion of All Saints’ Day to tell Catholics to stop venerating “stupid saints” and instead put a photo of himself on their altars.
Duterte joked that the Catholic saints were “drunkards” and worshippers “don’t even know who those saints are.” Philippine media outlets noted the stark contrast between Duterte’s off-the-cuff comments about Thursday’s holiday in person compared to the respectful statement put out in his name by the presidential palace, Malacanang.
Duterte has made a habit of insulting the Catholic Church, of which he claims to be a member, throughout his presidency. He has repeatedly accused a Catholic priest of molesting him as a child and offered fans free copies of a book detailing priest molestation charges titled Altar of Secrets. His animosity against the Church has damaged him significantly in the past; comments against Catholics have lowered his approval ratings more than any policy undertaken during his presidency.
While Duterte promised to stop attacking God over the summer, he did not limit his criticism of Catholics generally on Thursday.
“These f*cking Catholics, why do they observe All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day? We don’t even know who those saints are. Who are those stupid saints? They’re just drunkards,” Duterte said at an event to discuss recovery after a major typhoon, according to the Philippine Star. “Just stay with me. I’ll give you one patron saint so you can stop searching for one. Get hold of a picture of mine and put it on the altar — Santo Rodrigo.”
As Rappler notes, prior to his public comments, Duterte had urged the Philippine people in a written statement from Malacanang to “emulate our saints, pray for the eternal repose of souls, and deepen our engagement with our communities as we work for real and lasting change,” calling saints a “virtuous example” for all Catholics.
Catholic leaders in the country have responded to Duterte’s responses with what has become a familiar dismay.
“He is not a theologian nor has even studied catechesis or theology. He is not an official teacher of doctrine. … why is he making such remarks when he is not a teacher of doctrine?” Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma asked. “We better decipher what to believe and what not to believe in what he says.”
Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David called Duterte “a very sick man” in a Facebook post. “We pray for him. We pray for our country,” he added. Referring to Duterte’s “drunkard” remark, the bishop wrote, “Jesus himself was called a ‘glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.'”
The remark is far from the first time Duterte has insulted Catholic leaders and dogma. In August, he mocked Saint Isidore (San Isidro), asking, “Who is this guy San Isidro that every town fiesta, we kill our cows, carabaos, just to spend because it is the fiesta of San Isidro?”
In that incident, Duterte insisted that venerating saints went against worship of God. “It’s only one God, God the Father. He’s not even the father. He’s God, period,” he said, urging Filipinos to join the “Iglesia ni Rodrigo,” a fake church he was starting.
Duterte went on to say that, if any bishop was present at the event, “I want to kick your ass.”
After widespread backlash from believers in the country, Duterte apologized “to God and nobody else.”
“If it’s the same God, I’m sorry, that’s how it is. Sorry, God,” Duterte elaborated. “I said sorry, God. If God is taken in a generic term by everybody listening then that’s well and good.”
The president has repeatedly accused the late priest Father Mark Falvey of molesting him when he was about 14 years old. An investigation into a priest of the same name in the United States, where Duterte said Falvey had left after working in his community, found multiple testimonies accusing Falvey of child sexual abuse. Falvey died in 1976.