During a recent speech, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte offered his audience candid remarks describing an event that transpired between himself and a sleeping household maid when he was an adolescent boy. According to Duterte, when he was a curious teenager, he found a household maid asleep and proceeded to feel her flesh under a skirt and undergarment. Crucially, the story was being recounted in the form of quoted dialogue that took place between a priest in a confession booth and a young Duterte shortly after the maid incident in question.
The story concludes with the priest ordering Duterte to “Say five Our Fathers, five Hail Marys“.
As if on cue, Duterte’s critics began accusing him of committing a horrible criminal act – thus forgetting to acknowledge that he was legally and morally a child at the time and one who himself had been the victim of sexual molestation at the hands of an American born priest.
But in any case, the purpose of Duterte recounting the anecdote in question has everything to do with a previous statement in which he criticised several doctrines and teachings of the Catholic church, ranging from the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to the Crucifixion story of the Bible. Last week Duterte said the following:
“You’re already praying at one God, then you’re going to pray at these cursed saints. There’s only one God. There’s only one God, period. You cannot divide God into 3, that’s silly”.
Turning then to the Biblical recounting of Crucifixion, Duterte said:
“Your God was nailed on the cross. Fuck, how unimpressive. I’m God and you will crucify me? Mother fucker. I’d tell them, ‘Lightning, finish all of them. Burn all the non-believers…
…Look, those documents were written – if at all – 3,000 years ago. Why would they care about our lives now? Who wrote about them? Who’s Saint Thomas? We don’t know who they are. That might even be a name for a cow or camel then”.
Of course, the aim of Duterte’s criticism of Catholic doctrine and Biblical theology was to force his fellow Filipinos to think more critically, while also encouraging his otherwise complacent compatriots to more robustly question authority. This however did not stop certain opposition politicians and politicised Church leaders from lambasting Duterte, even though Philippine law establishes both the right to free speech (including the criticism of religion) and a separation of church from state.
But to show his detractors that he has lived life both as a Catholic and now as a non-affiliated believer in a supreme being, Duterte told the maid story in order to describe how at the time, a priest instructed him to say five hail marys in order to absolve him of a sin. Thus, according to Catholic doctrine, Duterte has absolved himself of a past sin because he confessed it to a priest and followed the priest’s subsequent instructions.
Therefore, those who are criticising Duterte for his maid story are simultaneously agreeing with Duterte’s previous criticism of Church doctrine. This is logically so because the clear implication behind those who are angry with the 73 year old Duterte for something that he did as a boy, are self-evidently saying that the Church’s solution to the absolving of sins is clearly not a sufficient remedy to a sinful act.
In this sense, one can criticise Duterte for not absolving his boyhood sin, but this would mean admitting that he was correct to criticise the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church as incomplete, insufficient and out of touch with modern sensibilities. Inversely, one can agree that Duterte long ago atoned for his sin, as at the time of his original atonement, he was a practising Catholic and therefore atoned for his sin in the manner that his religion taught him to do. The fact that as an older adult he has turned his back on Catholicism does not negate the fact that Duterte was a practising Catholic at the time of the maid incident, nor does it negate the fact that according to Church law, Duterte is technically a “lapsed Catholic”. In this sense, when Duterte was a practising Catholic, he did what an obedient Catholic is supposed to do and likewise as an adult who turned his back on Catholicism, he now lives a life true to his individual beliefs.
Thus, no matter how one looks at it, unless one is to fully depart from logic – Duterte has won the argument and this of course was the very reason he told the maid story in the first place.