Apparently not content with his many earthbound enemies, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is now picking a fight with God– drawing a sharp rebuke from the country’s religious leaders, including those from the politically powerful Roman Catholic Church, in Asia’s largest Catholic nation.
The remark came in a divisive speech on Friday, in which Duterte cast doubt on the truth of the biblical creation story and railed against the higher power.
“Who is this stupid God? This son of a bitch is then really stupid,” said the president. “How can you rationalize a God? Do you believe?”
Archbishop Socrates Villegas condemned the comments in a statement on Tuesday: “God has been called insulting names – words we always told you not to say or even write. You are even being challenged to leave this church of your birth, the church of your grandparents.”
Catholic bishop Arturo Bastes went even further, saying, “Duterte’s tirade against God and the Bible reveals again that he is a psychological freak, a psychopath, an abnormal mind who should have not been elected as president of our civilized and Christian nation.”
The Philippines is more than 80 percent Catholic, with an additional 10 percent belonging to other Christian denominations.
The comments have also drawn criticism from Protestant church leaders. (Many of Duterte’s allies are Protestants, according to the Times.) The Philippine Council for Evangelical Churches joined the chorus of critical church leaders, demanding that Duterte “refrain from issuing insulting statements against the Christian faith.”
Some opposition politicians have interpreted Duterte’s rant as an attempt to distract the public from his administration’s “incompetence and corruption,” according to the Times report. But it’s also not the first time Duterte has said disparaging things about the Catholic church. He cursed Pope Francis for supposedly causing traffic jams when he visited the Philippines in 2015. He called Catholic bishops “sons of whores” after they spoke out against his campaign in 2016. (He also sparked backlash that year for saying President Obama should “go to hell”).
More recent clashes between Duterte and the Catholic church revolve around Catholic bishops’ opposition to his bloody war on drugs, which has led to the deaths of thousands of people in extrajudicial killings since he took office two years ago. The church has organized rallies to protest the killings and has also offered protection to police officers who testify about them.
In response, Duterte has accused the church of hypocrisy, claiming that priests have had affairs with women. Three priests have been killed since December, and an Australian nun was ordered to be deported in April after joining street protests critical of Duterte’s war on drugs. (The order has since been nullified.)
Duterte’s comments on Friday ups the ante–it’s the first time he has publicly denounced God himself.