PRIEST have a special role in the Catholic Church. Church catechism says priests are “appointed to act in behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for men.” (Though protestants say God needs no mediator.)

One priest said priests are loved by God.

In last Sunday’s mass, in which his homily reflected on Jesus and his disciples teaching God’s word, he suggested that a person who bashes a priest might be accursed.

The priest cited two incidents of what he called “gaba”: a priest blessing a boat was ridiculed by a drunk; another priest was leading a Good Friday procession that a prankster disrupted with fireworks set off among the devotees.

Both mischief makers died days after they disrespected the priests. Coincidence maybe, the homily said, but be careful with priests.

Range of charges

What does that tell about the verbal assault of President Duterte last Jan. 19 on priests and the church? Not the first and the harshest so far he had heaped on the religious group:

-- “You collect millions of pesos weekly and where has the money gone? Explain as we explain the use of the taxes the government collects.”

-- “You enjoy nice clothes, vehicles, homes and even have a city, the Vatican, while many Filipinos languish in poverty”;

-- “Cases of corruption, sexual abuse and homosexual relations in seminaries...”

‘Moral ascendancy’

Duterte said the priests have “no moral ascendancy” to scold him over the drug killings and lecture on “sanctity of life.”

The charges seem to be effective foil against church criticisms. To parishioners, there must be some truth in them. The church may have taken refuge in people’s faith to deflect or ignore what critics like Duterte have been saying.

‘Don’t judge us’

Yet the issue is not joined in the Duterte-church debate. Killing is evil, the priests say. Because of your own sins, you cannot judge us, Duterte says. Which doesn’t refute the fact that killing a crime suspect is also a crime.

Duterte though wouldn’t be deterred by the prospect of divine retribution. As someone who’s accustomed to saying “go to hell,” he must be ready himself to end up there.