President Duterte has sparked an uproar in Asia’s biggest Catholic nation after he called God “stupid,” prompting a rebuke from church officials who have been instrumental in toppling past leaders.
In an expletive-laden speech last Friday before government officials, Duterte expressed disbelief in the Catholic story of creation and described the teaching that humans have already sinned at birth as a “very stupid proposition.”
“Who is this stupid God? He’s really stupid. You created something perfect, and then you think of an event that would tempt and destroy the quality of your work,” Duterte said.
The comment risks undermining Duterte’s popularity in a country where Catholics make up 80 percent of the population, and 10 percent belong to other Christian denominations. So far, his support has stayed strong despite regular vulgar insults against women, gays and other groups. It’s not the first time he’s criticized the church—when he was a presidential candidate, Duterte cursed the Pope for supposedly causing traffic jams during his 2015 visit to the Philippines.
The Philippine leader justified this remark in a separate speech on Monday, saying it was borne out of his frustration at religious workers criticizing his government, particularly an Australian missionary who he wants deported. His spokesman, Harry L. Roque Jr., said Duterte was expressing his anger as a victim of sexual abuse by a priest when he was young.
The Duterte administration has formed a three-man committee to engage with the Catholic Church and other religious groups to help reduce tension, Roque said in a televised briefing in Manila.
“I know there’s a separation of church and state, but the president wants to open the dialog with the Catholic Church,” Roque said.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, which was instrumental in organizing the protests that toppled late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr., issued a statement on Monday defending church teachings and calling out Duterte for “attacking Christian beliefs.”
Sen. Antonio F. Trillanes IV, a senator and one of Duterte’s most vocal critics, called the Philippine leader “one evil man.”
“My God is real, and He is alive,” said Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva, a senator and son of a Christian evangelist. “We pray for the president’s enlightenment.”