The president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines has sought to defend Pope Francis from a vitriolic attack from a presidential candidate in next year’s elections.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas slammed Rodrigo Duterte, the mayor of Davao City, for cursing Pope Francis for causing a traffic jam in his city during his visit to the Philippines in January.
Duterte said that he was joking when he wished the Pope would just go home and not come back again, during a radio interview after announcing his candidacy.
Archbishop Villegas said on Facebook after the attack: “Vulgarity is corruption. When we find vulgarity funny, we have really become beastly and barbaric as a people.
“When a revered and loved and admired man like Pope Francis is cursed by a political candidate and the audience laugh, I can only bow my head and grieve in great shame. My countrymen have gone to the dregs,” the archbishop said in a statement.
“Corruption is indeed a great scourge of Philippine politics ... What the world desperately needs now is leadership by example.”
Pope Francis received a massive welcome when he visited the Philippines in January (PA)
Filipinos also took to Twitter to denounce the politician using the hashtag #defendthepope.
Edwin Lacierda, the spokesman for President Benigno Aquino, wrote on his Twitter account: “Mayor Duterte, you can say all you want about politicians but you don't curse my Pope Francis.”
Duterte - who announced his candidacy on Monday, is a divisive politician who the New York-based Human Rights Watch wants to be investigated for any role he may have had in the alleged summary executions of suspected criminals in his city.
Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan warned about Duterte in an interview with UCANews.com: “There is a big difference between being righteous and thinking and acting like God.
Pope Francis has an approval rating of 88 per cent in the Philippines (PA)
“Taking justice into ones hands makes one think like God and act like a dictator.”
Attacking Pope Francis in the Philippines is a very risky strategy for a presidential candidate.
The Philippines is officially a secular state but has 76 million Catholics, the third largest number of Catholics in the world - behind Brazil and Mexico - approximately 81 per cent of the population, according to Pew Research.
Pope Francis is also incredibly popular in the nation of islands: 88 per cent of Filipinos, including 95 per cent of the Catholic population, view the Pope favourably with well over half of the country viewing him very favourably.