NEW YORK -- Shortly before the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines warned his return to the island nation would be untimely, it was reported Sunday.
In an interview with Newsweek magazine, Cardinal Jaime Sin said Aquino's return would make "his family suffer."
"I recently told his mother I did not think he should come home because it is not timely," Sin said. "I felt if he came home he could land in the stockade because he already has a sentence of death passed on him.
"Why make his family suffer, or his friends?" asked Sin, 55, spiritual leader for 38 million Roman Catholics in the Philippines.
Aquino, 50, was leader of the opposition Liberal Party when President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972.
Defying Marcos by returning from self-exile in the United States, Aquino was shot to death in Manila Sunday by an assassin who was then killed in a barrage of military gunfire.
Asked about criticism he does not speak out strongly enough against radical priests serving rural parishes, Sin defended the role of his clergy.
"In many of the rural areas the politicians are no longer there. So my priests exercise leadership and people come to them with their problems," Sin said. "And it is said these people and these priests are subversive, when they are not."
Sin also said he did not formally condemn priests who have taken up arms alongside leftist guerrillas, but added, "I should advise them it is not very Christian to take up arms and kill anybody."
Sin said his belief the country should be returned to civilian leadership has mellowed after years of fighting against the military junta.
"After 10 years [of attacking the government], I had not accomplished anything. So I started to think: I should be friendly because ... you destroy your enemies by befriending them. We may not see eye to eye, but we can work hand in hand for national unity and harmony," he said.