Santiago blasts priest over ‘hell’ warning

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12:39 AM March 5th, 2012

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By: Christian V. Esguerra, March 5th, 2012 12:39 AM

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago

She isn’t the type who would back down when challenged by a fellow politician or by a fellow lawyer. Neither would she when confronted by a man of the cloth.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Sunday came out firing against a Catholic priest who criticized her for repeatedly scolding prosecutors over their supposed incompetence in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Santiago took exception to a remark by Fr. Catalino Arevalo in his homily suggesting she could be “worthy of the fires of hell,” particularly for referring to the prosecution team as gago (fool) during a trial session last week.

“The Constitution provides for a wall of separation between Church and State. A priest cannot violate the law in the guise of criticizing a senator-judge with the ulterior motive of promoting his own political agenda,” Santiago said in a statement.

Arevalo, a Jesuit in his 80s who is close to the family of President Benigno Aquino III, quoted Matthew 5:20 in taking a swipe at the mercurial senator: “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement. And if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council. And if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the fires of hell.”

‘Publicity hound’

“I can engage in a public debate with the priest and we can exchange quotation for quotation from the Bible,” said Santiago, who holds a master’s degree from Maryhill School of Theology.

“But that would be foolish, because the Bible can be interpreted in as many ways as there are Christian churches.”

Santiago said Arevalo “sounds very much like a publicity hound,” claiming the priest had asked reporters to write about his homily.

“And I thought humility in spiritual matters is a virtue,” she said.

“The priest is saying that he is close to God and I’m not. I say to the priest, judge not, that you shall not be judged,” she added.

Both at fault

At Thursday’s trial, Santiago berated prosecutors for suddenly dropping five of the eight impeachment articles against Corona.

She was also incensed by the prosecution’s pronouncement that it now had “overwhelming” evidence to convict Corona, even if the defense was yet to argue its case.

Santiago was even more angered when a private prosecutor, Vitaliano Aguirre, covered his ears each time the senator took the floor. Aguirre was later cited for contempt.

Former Ambassador Roy Señeres, Aguirre’s former classmate at San Beda College’s law school, said Aguirre should not be punished, noting that while Aguirre was cited for contempt by the Senate, Santiago was never chided for calling the prosecutors fools.

“He and Senator Santiago are in pari delicto (equal in fault). Both committed contemptuous behavior. Aguirre should not be punished unless Santiago is punished also. If the Senate can’t punish Santiago, they might as well not punish Aguirre also. The entire Senate would be committing a contemptuous act if they punish Aguirre only,” Señeres said in a text message.

“The Senate should not commit an injustice upon Aguirre,” he added.

Aguirre has since quit the prosecution team. With a report from Jerome C. Aning

Originally posted: 8:50 pm | Sunday, March 4th, 2012

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