Duterte hits priests anew but denies persecuting them

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President Rodrigo Duterte says members of the Catholic Church believe they are saints, while government forces are demons. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 14)   President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday denied persecuting priests, amid the killings of three clergy members in six months.

"Sabi nung nabasa ko sa ano [What I read was], "Stop persecuting priests." Wala naman akong sinabi [I did not say anything]," Duterte said during an oath-taking ceremony of police and other government forces in Malacañang.

The President was responding to the call made by Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villages "to stop the verbal persecution of the Catholic Church because such attacks can unwittingly embolden more crimes against priests."

Duterte also repeated his claims on Father Mark Ventura's killing last April 29 — linking the priest's death to supposed illicit affairs.

"Kung ikaw, pari, kabitin mo 'yung anak — asawa ng sundalo, kabitin mo 'yung asawa ng mayor, mamamatay ka talaga," he said.

[Translation: If you were a priest, and if you have an affair with the wife of a soldier, or a mayor, you will be killed.]

He then said he suppressed the issue for the sake of the Catholic Church.

"'Yung pari namatay, meron kami. May binigay sa akin ang pulis but ni-suppress ko kasi hindi maganda para sa Katoliko. Eh babae eh. Pareha kami ng issue ng babae nung pari na 'yun, babae," he said.

[Translation: We have data on the slain priests. I got it from the police but I suppressed it because it will not look good for the Catholic Church. The issue is women, and the priest and I have the same issue.]

He then slammed Villegas and all others criticizing him from within the Church after the killings of priests.

"Si Soc. Villegas o si… Parang san — ang problema nitong mga buang na ito. Santo lahat sila. Ibang mga gobyerno, mga sundalo o mga pulis, puro demonyo na," he said.

[Trsanslation: Villegas, and all the others, they think they're saints. And everyone else in government, soldiers, and policemen are devils.]

Father Richmond Nilo was one of the three recently-killed priests last June 10, following the attacks on Ventura and Father Marcelito Paez on December 4 last year.

Malacañang earlier claimed lawless elements are killing priests to discredit the government's war against criminality.