MAYBE President Duterte was sweeping and vague when last March 30, going into Lent, he said the Catholic Church would be irrelevant in 30 years.

He used the word “passe” but that didn’t tell what he exactly meant. “Passe” may just mean “outdated” or “old-fashioned.” And what are the benchmarks of irrelevance?

What he meant

Did Duterte refer to a collapse of the church, not just in the Philippines but worldwide with its 1.2 billion members fleeing to other religions or abandoning faith altogether?

Did he mean Vatican authority in disarray, with bishops losing their grip over priests? Or did he just refer to erosion of faith and influence of the church in the nation?

Generalized shot, no specific aspect of the church targeted, and only alleged abuses and scandals cited as causes of downfall.

Church defenses

The church in response offered the usual defenses: It has been here for 2,000 years. Built by Jesus, it cannot be torn down by its enemies. Many had attempted with propaganda and force and failed. Even excesses of popes and abuses by clergy hadn’t toppled it.

On surviving, Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop emeritus Oscar Cruz said, “Let us be a bit more realistic” (those 2,000 years). Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes, quoting Jesus’s assurance to Peter, said “even the gates of hell” cannot destroy it. And this: “A million of Dutertes will never succeed...”

And, yes, the metaphors mentioned by Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David: the church being a mustard seed, a lamp in the dark, a pinch of salt in a pot of stew, all biblical support to the Church’s capacity to endure.

Some good in it

But has Duterte’s assault not brought some good at all? Forgetting diatribe, purging off venom, church leaders can look at some truth in his criticism.

Child abuse and other sexual scandals and the alleged cover-up by church leaders that have buffeted the church for many decades now should be seriously tackled with and resolved.

Gripes of parishioners about misspending of church funds and affluence of some clergy should be addressed. Dwindling attendance at mass in some parishes, loss of trust in parish priests have rung alarm bells and not been heeded.

Duterte exaggerated in his prediction but was not totally off mark about what ails the church.