Pope congratulates Philippine President for death penalty ban

Pope Benedict has told the Philippine President Gloria Arroyo "well done" at their Vatican meeting yesterday for outlawing the death penalty but local bishops have warned that the move was not enough to win "moral affirmation" for her presidency.

Catholic News Service reports that during the meeting yesterday, Philippine's President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo smiles as Pope Benedict XVI holds a copy of a law she signed abolishing the death penalty in the Philippines.

At the end of the meeting with the Pope, Arroyo gave him a statue of Our Lady of Guidance and a copy of the law in a leather case, telling him, "These are two expressions of the faith of the Filipino people."

After the Pope gave her some medals, she spent a couple of moments digging in her purse before pulling out her rosary and asking Pope Benedict to bless it.

Earlier in Manila, Philippines, members of the opposition parties filed an impeachment complaint against Arroyo in the House of Representatives, alleging that she has condoned political killings and violated the constitution to silence dissent. She and her supporters deny the charges.

A Vatican statement on the meeting said the president discussed with the Pope the abolition of the death penalty, a bill she signed on 24 June on the feast of St John the Baptist, before leaving for Rome.

In addition to banning capital punishment, the law changes the death sentences of about 1,000 prisoners to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

After her meeting with the Pope, she met with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, before praying in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and at the tomb of Pope John Paul II in St Peter's Basilica.

According to the AsiaNews report, despite the papal audience and President Arroyo's move on the death penalty, key Filipino Church figures continue to call for her resignation over alleged election rigging and her indifferences to human rights abuses.

Oscar Cruz, Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, said it was "very doubtful" that the Pope, former prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith, would extend his "moral affirmation" to the President, despite the abrogation of the death penalty.

"It won't make any difference," he said, "given that the government closes its eyes to the kidnapping of activists seeking to improve our country, including Church people."

The stand of the Bishop of Lingayen-Dagupan reflects that already expressed by the Bishop of Novaliches, Antonio Tobias, who last April celebrated Mass for the birthday of the ex-President Joseph Estrada. During Mass, he "apologised for the Church's participation and support in rallies that led to his resignation".

Pope has "cordial meeting" with Arroyo who faces impeachment in Manila (AsiaNews 26/6/06)
Pope Benedict tells Filipino president "well done" for outlawing death penalty (Catholic Online 26/6/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (Wikipedia)
President Gloria Arroyo's website

Church in Philippines hails death penalty abolition (CathNews 9/6/06)
US Bishops statement calls for rejection of death penalty (CathNews 17/11/05)
Pope backs campaign against death penalty (CathNews 2/12/03)

Arroyo Repeals Death Penalty Law In Advance Of Papal Audience (UCA News 26/6/06)

27 Jun 2006