Lies, all lies. That was the response of several Philippine church leaders to President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement that Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle had angered Pope Francis for “meddling” in politics.
“All lies. [A] Distortion of truth,” said Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga.
“They [don’t] know what they are talking about,” Bishop Santos said in a statement sent to the media on March 11, adding that Duterte’s understanding of the situation was anything but clear.
Duterte claimed on March 10 that Cardinal Tagle, former archbishop of Manila, had been removed from his post and replaced by an “officer in charge.”
“The pope got mad because he meddled with politics. That’s the truth,” the president said in a speech before the assembly of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines.
He alleged that the cardinal has been “investigated” by the Vatican.
“That’s why we were given an officer in charge. We don’t have a bishop. Tagle was out. He was investigated. That’s an open secret,” said Duterte.
“We don’t have a bishop now. Don’t you know? He was removed. We were given a caretaker now who is a priest. Manila doesn’t have a bishop,” he added.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the archdiocese, laughed off Duterte’s claim.
“Sorry, I do not want to dignify such an irresponsible statement from him,” said the prelate.
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan, a suburb in Metro Manila, described Duterte’s statement as “unbelievably ludicrous.”
Father Jerome Secillano of the Nuestra Senora Del Perpetuo Socorro parish said that “insinuating something [as to] the reason for [Tagle’s] appointment to a Vatican post … is simply twisted and reeks of intrigue.”
In a 2018 homily, Cardinal Tagle criticized “bullies” whom he said had abused their power. Some people interpreted it as an allusion to the president’s actions.
Cardinal Tagle left for Rome in February to assume his new post as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples — a top Vatican position.
Bishop Santos said Cardinal Tagle’s “fidelity to Jesus and to the Church is solid and untainted.”
“Cardinal Tagle is the least among our bishops who minces words about governance and [the Duterte] administration,” said Father Secillano.
“Duterte’s malicious comment … is a demonstration of pretentiousness that this administration projects in the affairs of the Church,” said Father Raymond Ambray of the Tandag Diocese.
Duterte has long spoken critically of the Catholic Church in his speeches, often deriding it as a “hypocritical” institution.
He also said the clergy should not use the pulpit to attack him and his policies, particularly the “war on drugs” that has reportedly killed more than 5,000 suspected drug users and peddlers.
Additional reporting by Mark Saludes