Church asks poor to forgive them

MANILA, Reuters

The powerful Philippine Roman Catholic Church on Sunday asked for forgiveness from the country’s poor, many of whom have joined protesting supporters of detained former President Joseph Estrada.

“We ask the poor to forgive. We have long neglected them and allowed them to be exploited by self-serving powerful people in our society,” Cardinal Jaime Sin said in a homily on the eve of Monday’s crucial legislative and local elections.

“Our impoverished brothers and sisters, please forgive the Church for its shortcomings,” the Manila Archbishop added.

The country’s top Catholic prelate issued the unprecedented appeal apparently to defuse unrest by Estrada supporters — mostly poor people — who had accused the Church of partisanship in its support for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s government.

The Church, an influential institution in this 85 percent Catholic country, helped inspire a popular revolt in January which led to Estrada’s removal from the presidency. The uprising was led mostly by the rich and middle classes.

Sin said the Church was not anti-Estrada but “pro-morality … and pro-God.”

“If we have hurt the feelings of our poor brothers and sisters, I hope they understand that the Church has a duty to show what is right and wrong,” Sin added.

Thousands of supporters of Estrada, demanding Arroyo’s resignation, attacked the presidential palace in violent May Day protests, triggering clashes with riot troops which resulted in four people being killed and more than 100 injured.

Arroyo later said the attack was part of an opposition-led plot to seize power.

Estrada is in police custody, charged with economic plunder, an offense punishable by death or life imprisonment.

On Saturday, he and his son were flown from a police facility outside Manila to the state’s military hospital in the capital after both complained of being ill.

Sin prayed that Monday’s elections, seen as a test of Arroyo’s leadership, would be peaceful. At least 58 people have died in a violent run-up to the polls.