MANILA, Philippines – Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas broke his silence on Sunday, June 4, in the face of tirades by President-elect Rodrigo Duterte against the Catholic Church.
Known as an outspoken archbishop, Villegas made a statement by extolling the virtue of silence itself.
Villegas, who is also president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said in an e-mailed message: "There is virtue in silence. There is virtue in speech. Wisdom is knowing when it is time for silence and when is the timing for speech."
He said: "Mine is the silence of Jesus before the arrogance of Pilate."
He explained that "there is nobility in silence like the silence of the lambs brought to slaughter in the temple to atone for sins."
"Silence indeed is the language of God and only those who speak silence will be able to grasp Him," he said in his statement titled "Understanding Silence."
Asked if he made the statement as CBCP president, Villegas, in a text message to Rappler, said he was doing so "as a Filipino."
Asked if his statement is in reference to Duterte's tirades, Villegas told Rappler that this is "in relation to all the confusing noise we hear in the air, on print, on cyberspace."
'Most hypocritical institution'
An anti-establishment politician, Duterte has condemned the Catholic Church as "the most hypocritical institution."
He has also slammed Catholic bishops for reports in 2011 that a few of them received SUVs from the Philippine government. The bishops said they had wanted to use these vehicles for pastoral work in remote communities.
Referring to bishops, Duterte said on Thursday evening, June 2, “Isa pa kayong mga putang ina.” (Here you go, too, you sons of a bitch.)
The CBCP's silence amid Duterte's statements has surprised many Catholics.
After all, the CBCP under Villegas has spoken out on various issues, from politics to pornography to "misleading" Pope Francis T-shirts sold by ABS-CBN. While associated with the late Corazon Aquino, the CBCP president has not spared even the administration of her son, outgoing President Benigno Aquino III, from criticism.
Fr Ranhilio Callangan Aquino, dean of the Graduate School of Law of San Beda College, said in a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler: "That is my fear: that our church leaders think it the better part of prudence to hold their peace while every rant, insult, and slur is sent hurtling their way — and in the direction of the Church, inevitably. In this case, silence is not prudence, but the betrayal of the people’s trust that their Church is heir to the prophesy by which God’s word has confronted the powers of the world, castigated kings and princes, admonished and warned the powerful of the earth."
'Judge for yourself'
In December 2015, Villegas already slammed Duterte for cursing Pope Francis in a speech. It was an unprecedented statement that singled out a politician in the title itself. The statement was titled, "Mayor Duterte?"
After that, the CBCP no longer issued a statement against Duterte himself. In a pre-election statement, however, the CBCP warned against candidates taking "morally reprehensible" positions. While the statement didn't name any candidate, the Duterte camp viewed this as against the Davao City mayor himself.
Villegas, in his personal capacity, also criticized Duterte for making a rape joke before the elections. "Judge for yourself if this is the right choice," he said on his Facebook page.
Villegas is a protégé of the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, who helped oust dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 through the EDSA People Power Revolution.
Read Villegas’ full statement below:
Are we still at ease with silence? Has the noise of violence and terror drowned the voice of quiet conscience? Do we always interpret silence as fear of the cowards; the destiny imposed on the unwilling mute; the refuge of the guilty?
It is not always so.
There is nobility in silence like the silence of the lambs brought to slaughter in the temple to atone for sins. There is the silence of the desert mystics that pierced the hidden secrets of the heart of God. There is the silence of the woman who treasured all those things in her heart. Silence indeed is the language of God and only those who speak silence will be able to grasp Him.
Mine is the silence of Jesus before the arrogance of Pilate. Mine is the silence of the tears from mourning trying to fathom the mystery of death. Mine is the silence of prayer contemplating the divine mysteries. Mine is the silence of the bud blooming quietly without calling attention to itself. Mine is the silence of a hopeful mother waiting to give birth to her infant. Mine is the language of peace that refuses the dark magic of revenge. Mine is the silence of the vigilant waiting for destiny to unfold. Mine is the silence of respect for those who consider us their enemies but whose good we truly pray for and whose happiness we want to see unfold.
There is virtue in silence. There is virtue in speech. Wisdom is knowing when it is time for silence and when is the timing for speech.
You can understand my speech if you speak the language of silence. You can understand my silence if you know how to love like Him who was born one silent night.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.