Pope told Philippine church to avoid Arroyo issue, priest says

Manila, Philippines - Pope Benedict XVI told the Catholic Church to stay out of the controversy surrounding Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, a priest says.

Arroyo is under pressure to resign after she admitted she called an elections official during the 2004 presidential race that she won.

"He didn't want us to get involved in this political issue, unlike the last pope who was so involved in political issues, like Poland," Father Tony Rozales said.

The message to remain uninvolved was delivered by the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican's representative, to a secret meeting of the Philippines' 74 Catholic bishops last weekend.

"So it made it more difficult for the bishops because they cannot deviate from the mind of the Holy Father," Rozales said.

While the church has been active in politics, twice in 20 years backing popular protests that forced presidents to resign, this time the bishops decided to remain neutral.

And without the church's support, the effort to remove Arroyo may run out of steam, political science professor Alex Magno said.

The bishop's decision broke the consensus of the elite, the business community, and other groups pushing for the president's resignation, he said.

Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets, some demanding Arroyo's resignation and others supporting her.