Duterte's violent crackdown on drug use has claimed more than 6,000 lives in the six months since he took office. At least 2,250 drug suspects have been reported killed by police, while at least 3,700 others were murdered by unknown suspects who sometimes accused their victims of being drug dealers or addicts, according to AFP.
“I am ashamed of the things I read about the Philippines in the international media and more ashamed of what I hear from our leaders,” the bishops' conference president, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, said.
For his part, President Duterte called on the Church to rebuke drug users. “Most people here are Catholic. If you are a good priest, make them understand that they will die,” he said.
The president also engaged in polemical attacks against the clergy. “You criticize the police, you criticize me. For what? You have the money. You are all crazy,” the president continued, making insinuations about sexual abuse by clergy.
The president challenged the Church to a “showdown” and threatened to expose abuse and corruption in the Church, Reuters reports.
One of the president's top advisers, Jesus Dureza, met Pope Francis the day previously to deliver a letter that thanked the Pope for his 2015 visit to the Philippines. The Pope had said he would bless the country and “also bless your president.”
One Catholic bishop responded to his controversial comments, defending the Church's right to criticize the president’s wrongdoing even if some clergy are corrupt.
“Even a sick doctor must still try to cure ailments of others, and, of course, his too,” Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa said Jan. 20.
He said the Church is also determined to counter internal corruption.
“Bishops and priests, who hide serious misdeeds, are harming the Church by their infidelities. If anyone has concrete evidence of misdeed, the authorities better know it and clean the ranks,” Archbishop Arguelles said.
“Churchmen are not perfect. Nevertheless, they are supposed to proclaim what is right and proper even if they themselves fall short of what they teach.”
“The fault of some should not be blamed on all,” he added.
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The controversy over the drug war killings had also surfaced over the holidays, when Cardinal Luis Tagle's Christmas message was taken as an implicit criticism of the killings.
“Why is there room for destroying lives but minute space for saving them?” he asked.