Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte threatened violence against any Catholic bishop or priest present at remarks he delivered Tuesday, described by local media as “another directionless speech that targeted his usual enemies.”
“Is there any bishop here? I want to kick your ass, and the priest,” told the crowd in Manila’s Malacanang palace on Tuesday. Duterte went on to call the Catholic Church “the most hypocritical institution in the Philippines” and insult the practice of venerating saints.
“We are assigned in every parochial thing, there’s something. ‘Yours is San Isidro. Your saint.’ And who is this shit?” he asked, according to Philippine outlet Rappler. “You know, they were nomadic tribes at that time. Nomadic. 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?”
“It’s only one God, God the Father. He’s not even the father. He’s God, period,” Duterte asserted, before joking that he was considering opening up his own church, the “Iglesia ni Rodrigo.”
The Philippines website Politko also quotes Duterte as claiming that donations to the church are used to fund orphanages full of illegitimate children belonging to the clergy.
Duterte has long criticized the Catholic Church, though he has used even harsher tones than normal to attack the institution. In late June, Duterte used a press conference for a particularly strident tirade against Catholics, calling the Catholic God “stupid” and a “son of a bitch” and directly challenging the validity of the story of Adam in the Book of Genesis.
“Adam ate it then malice was born. Who is this stupid God?” he asked. “That son of a bitch is stupid if that’s the case. … You created something perfect and then you think of an event that would tempt and destroy the quality of your work.”
Following a torrent of criticism, Duterte responded by reiterating, “Your God is stupid. Mine has a lot of common sense.”
The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches responded to Duterte’s remarks by calling them “completely inappropriate.” Clergy around the country called for a national fast to pray for Duterte’s soul.
The Philippines is about 85 percent Catholic and over 90 percent Christian of all denominations. Following his statements about the Church in June, Duterte suffered the biggest drop in popularity yet since he was elected in 2016, down from 56 percent to 45 percent nationwide in a survey by pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS).
While Malacanang defended Duterte’s comments – noting that, unlike Muslim neighbors like Indonesia and Malaysia, the Philippines does not have any laws against blasphemy – Duterte ultimately apologized, but “only to God and nobody else.” He also agreed to a moratorium on insulting the Catholic Church, which he violated within 24 hours. He had since kept to his promise until this week.
While Duterte appears to have suffered the most political damage for his comments against the Church in June, he has long been a public critic of the institution, one of the most powerful in the Philippines. In 2015, while still mayor of Davao city and only a candidate for president, Duterte named a Jesuit priest named Father Mark Falvey as having abused of him sexually as a child.
“It was a case of fondling—you know what—he did during confession, that’s how we lost our innocence early,” Duterte said at the time, claiming he would not file any legal actions against the church because he still identified as Catholic.
He repeated the accusations again in 2017, during a speech meant to honor the families of Philippine police veterans. Waving a copy of a book on sexual abuse within the Church called Altar of Secrets, Duterte told the audience that the Catholic Church was “full of shit” and its clergy were “all filthy.”
Falvey ultimately left the Philippines and moved to the United States.
“He was posthumously accused of abuses committed [in the US], and I think if there were any settlements, Mayor Duterte may be referring to that. He never belonged to the Philippine Province,” Father Emmanuel Alfonso SJ, spokesman of the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus, told reporters following Duterte’s accusations.
According to a 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times, a Father Mark Falvey “was accused of molesting four girls and five boys between 1959 and 1975 at Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church in Hollywood.” Falvey, according to the piece, died in 1976, consistent with the record of the priest Duterte referred to.
“This guy brought a lifetime of misery to a group of young children. They’ll never get over it,” an attorney for the American victims, Raymond P. Boucher, told the U.S. newspapers. The victims ultimately settled with the Church.