Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, delivering a speech in April 2019. Presidential photo by Simeon Celi Jr.
When it comes to the partnership among Christianity and politics, the Philippines is an anomalous case. It is a nation with 1 of the world’s biggest Christian populations—which is destined to develop mightily in coming decades—and the proof of widespread Catholic piety is quick to see. However in the previous handful of years, the nation has acquired a regime that speaks the language of ferocious anti-Catholicism and anticlericalism. How on earth did this take place?
With a population of 105 million, the Philippines is at least 80 % Catholic, with yet another 10 to 15 % Protestant. It is currently 1 of the world’s two or 3 biggest centers of Catholic population, and by 2050 the nation will most likely be dwelling to 120 million Catholics.
That Catholic bedrock is apparent at events like the annual pilgrimage and procession in Manila related with the image of the Black Nazarene. This previous January, this astonishing gathering, referred to as the Traslación, attracted some five million of the faithful. By way of comparison, that is roughly double the quantity of Muslims who travel every single year to Mecca for their a lot more celebrated pilgrimage, the Hajj. And the Traslación is only 1 of the good festivities that make up the thriving ritual year about the nation. The Marian shrine of Baclaran is an overwhelming attraction.
Politically, the Catholic Church has normally played a very important function in the nation, and it was essential to the overthrow of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. The country’s late Cardinal Jaime Sin produced and broke a lot more than 1 regime, and he spoke powerfully for human rights causes. A single could be forgiven for assuming that the country’s politics had not moved as well far from the planet of the Catholic Reformation, some 4 centuries ago.
All of which really should be borne in thoughts when contemplating the turmoil that has overtaken the nation given that 2016, when Rodrigo Duterte gained the presidency with 39 % of the vote. Duterte is a classic strongman politician. An outspoken populist, an authoritarian, and a demagogue, he calls publicly for death squads to resolve the issues of violent crime and drug dealing by extrajudicial killings. He is a nightmare for human rights activists.
What have been most surprising are his outspoken attacks on the Catholic Church, all the a lot more so given that a good lots of Catholics have to have cast their ballots for him. Beyond attacking unique prelates, he has condemned the complete institution, like clergy at all levels.
In a series of sulfurous tirades, Duterte has denounced the church as a haven of corruption, with a unique concentrate on sexual sins—child abuse, the rape of nuns, and the tolerance of pederasty. Bishops are “useless fools.” He presented an apocalyptic prophecy: “The Catholic Church? In about 25 years, it will disappear. No a lot more. Folks will overlook it.” His attacks extend to Christian theology, like what he claims as the absurdity of the thought of original sin. God, he feels, is “stupid.”
In his religious views, as in so a lot else, Duterte’s motivations are challenging to judge. He says he was molested by a priest as a kid, but he has lots of sensible disagreements with the Catholic Church on problems like capital punishment and contraception: he is strongly in favor of each, although the church opposes each. The a lot more the clergy attempt to stem police abuses and violence, the a lot more very easily they can be targeted as accomplices of the lethal drug gangs.
Beyond these considerations, Duterte presumably feels that a steady diet plan of outrage flavored with salacious rhetoric is an exceptional implies of remaining in the every day headlines. At the identical time, he is opposing comfy elites who seem far removed from the country’s poor. If you want to challenge a country’s entrenched elite, then in the Philippines that has to imply attacking the church and its hierarchy. In a nation with so a lot poverty, charges of clerical hypocrisy look all as well plausible. Even the wildest harangues support cement the loyalty of the leader’s challenging-core followers.
What ever the roots of his rage, Duterte’s rhetoric is genuinely risky in its genuine-planet consequences. His calls for vigilantism have inspired a good lots of murders, operating into the thousands. There is just about every cause to count on that his shrieking anticlericalism may likewise lead to direct assaults on churches and priests and even to widespread acts of persecution. Various priests have currently been murdered.
The Duterte phenomenon may not outlast his presidency, but he has set some alarming precedents. By targeting the hierarchy and the clergy, he has shown the way for future demagogues to attack and plunder the church with no necessarily offending the piety of ordinary believers who so faithfully adhere to the statues of the Christ and the Virgin and who patronize the pilgrimages. The precedent is troubling. If this can take place in the Philippines, what other nation can really feel protected?
A version of this write-up seems in the print edition beneath the title “A Filipino anti-Catholic president.”