Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has promised to mend fences with the Catholic Church in the wake of scathing comments he made about God, which shocked many in Asia’s largest Catholic country.
In an apparent attempt to tamp down tensions after he called God “stupid” in a speech last week, Duterte announced Tuesday that he would engage in talks with the Catholic Church and other religious groups.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that Duterte realized he needed to mend bridges with the powerful religious institution. Roque will have a position on a committee created to communicate better with the church.
“The President thought to open the dialogue because there is only one society served by both the government and the church,” he said, according to CNN affiliate CNN Philippines.
The outspoken leader inflamed tensions last week while speaking at a summit in the southern city of Davao. In criticism of the Bible’s creation story, Duterte said: “Adam ate (the apple), then malice was born. Who is this stupid God?” he asked, according to Philippine state media.
Despite widespread outcry in the devout majority Catholic nation, government officials defended the speech, saying it was Duterte’s “personal belief.”
The President later doubled down on his remarks, saying Monday: “Your God is stupid. Mine has a lot of common sense,” CNN Philippines quoted him as saying.
On Monday, Roque suggested that Duterte’s claims that a priest molested him as a high schooler could be motivation for his incendiary remarks, CNN Philippines reported.
Leading church officials condemned the initial remarks. Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas rebuked Duterte but called for prayers for him.
“He must have received so much rejection and hurts in the past that he blurts out so much hatred and angst now,” the archbishop said, according to CNN Philippines.
“If he had been loved much, he would be giving so much of that love, too. He could be a victim of his scarred past and his wounded background. Pray for him with compassion.”
Lawmakers also criticized his comments.
“Between him and my God to whom I pray every single day and with whom I’ve found solace and comfort in all my difficult times, I don’t even have to think of my choice,” said Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who has previously defended Duterte.
“May my God forgive him and make him atone for all his sins.”
Duterte has long had a tempestuous relationship with the church, which counts more than 80% of Filipinos as adherents.
He has butted heads with the institution over his controversial war on drugs, which has claimed the lives of suspected dealers and users.
In rants against the church over its stance, he has called it “full of sh**” while accusing bishops of corruption and womanizing.
He’s also said priests should help him by speaking out about addiction instead of attacking him on the issue, and has brought up child abuse scandals that have plagued the church, asking, “What will you do about homosexuality in the seminary? What have you done to minors there?”
While meeting with members of the Filipino diaspora on official visits overseas, he has handed out copies of a book highly critical of the church called “Altar of Secrets: Sex, Politics, and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church.”
He most notably gave out copies of the book during a visit to South Korea when he was widely criticized for kissing a Filipina on stage during a meet-and-greet.
He also blamed Pope Francis for traffic problems in Manila during a visit by the Pontiff – a criticism for which he later apologized.