MANILA, Philippines – More Catholics showed outrage against the killings of priests as President Rodrigo Duterte continues what they call the "verbal persecution" of the Catholic Church.
Catholic communities ramped up their statements after the murder of Father Richmond Nilo, a 43-year-old priest in Nueva Ecija, the 3rd Filipino priest slain in less than 7 months.
In a statement published on his diocese's website Saturday, June 16, Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco denounced the killing of Nilo even as the Catholic Church is "still reeling from shock and grief" over the murders of Paez and Ventura.
Ongtioco pointed out that Nilo "died while fulfilling his ministry."
"But his death would not be in vain as the Church will continue to proclaim the Gospel amid persecution and violent attacks. We condemn these acts of violence. They can never silence our faith," Ongtioco said.
The Cubao bishop then urged authorities "to do everything in their capacity to bring justice" to Nilo.
Referring to the spate of killings in the Philippines, Ongtioco said: "Let us not get used to this. Let us not become desensitized and apathetic. Let us not stop making noise until our cry for justice and truth is heard. Let the killings stop!"
Ongtioco then urged all parishes in his diocese to toll their bells every 8 pm for 15 minutes from June 15, the funeral of Nilo, to June 29, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. He also requested parishes to expose the Blessed Sacrament for a Holy Hour after the evening Mass on June 28.
'The killers played god'
In a separate statement issued Thursday, June 14, the Order of Carmelites said that "a culture of impunity emboldens those who commit these atrocities."
The Carmelite priests said this is "especially disturbing" especially because majority of Filipinos, including government officials, "profess to be followers of Christ."
"We also appeal for President Duterte to stop his caustic and divisive remarks that harass Church people, human rights workers, and other persons who have dedicated their lives in realizing kaginhawahan (comfort) for the least, the lost, the neglected, and the forgotten. Now is a time for sober reflection and respectful conduct," the Order of Carmelites said.
Antipolo Bishop Francisco de Leon said, "The killing of any person is reprehensible but more reprehensible is the killing of any priest simply because his life and priesthood are gifts from God."
"The killers played god. That is idolatry. One day the killers will be judged," De Leon said.
No to gun-toting priests
While Catholic groups show their outrage, leaders of the Catholic Church have opposed a proposal to arm priests to address these killings.
"Gun-toting priests? They might want to consider leaving the priesthood and joining the police or the military instead," said Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David.
Sought for comment about priests arming themselves, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas told Rappler: "Would Christ do that? The Lord said to Peter, 'Put back your sword to its scabbard. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.'"
In an interview with Church-run Radyo Veritas, Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles said he "would strongly oppose" the proposal to arm priests.
"We are men of God, men of the Church, and it is part of our ministry to face dangers," Valles said. "But we would do just as Jesus did."
Cebu Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Florencio, apostolic administrator of the Military Ordinariate of the Philippines, also thumbed down the proposal to arm clergymen.
Not victims but martyrs
The killings of priests have also stirred conversations online and offline.
In his Inquirer column on Sunday, June 17, sociologist Randy David said the violent attacks against clergymen "represent an alarming development" in the Philippines' life. "It crosses a line that generations of Filipinos have respected even in revolutionary times."
The sociologist is the brother of the Caloocan bishop, vice president of the CBCP and one of the most courageous voices against killings in the Philippines. (READ: Caloocan Bishop Pablo David: Shepherd of his slaughtered sheep)
Randy David wrote: "I am not a regular churchgoer myself, but I take offense when someone as powerful as Mr Duterte, from a position of literalist ignorance, mocks the religious faith I inherited from my elders. As the nation's highest official, he should be more restrained when speaking about other people’s religious beliefs. Innocuous remarks about other faiths have historically sparked wars, and, as we have seen, could still trigger violent reactions in our time."
Randy David also said of his brother, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, "I cannot help worrying about his personal safety." The sociologist however said, "My brother is so clear-eyed about the path he has chosen that I have hesitated to even tell him to be cautious."
The columnist then quoted his brother, who said Paez, Ventura, and Nilo were not "victims" but "martyrs, meaning witnesses, from the start."
"Mr Duterte will find, to his dismay, that it is impossible to win a war against martyrs," Randy David said. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.