The Jakarta Post
More and more victims of sexual violence in Indonesia are speaking up, including those allegedly assaulted in religious communities. Most recently the Depok, West Java, Police arrested a church caretaker for allegedly molesting at least 20 children under his tutelage within a span of eight years.
The Catholic Women Human Rights Activists said recently that the parents of one of the victims filed a report on the alleged assault to St. Herkulanus Church in 2014, but the case was settled through mediation and the suspect, Syahril Parlindungan Marbun, was not dismissed as a mentor of altar boys. Instead, he was promoted to the post of mentorship subsection head.
Surely this scandal further taints the Catholic Church, despite the progress the Vatican has made in addressing sexual abuse within the Church, a lot of which was previously swept under the carpet. Through his apostolic letter “Vos Estis Lux Mundi”, Pope Francis passed an ecclesiastical law requiring each diocese to create a system for reporting sexual abuse by June 2020.
The Catholic Church in Indonesia, however, has yet to follow this order although the deadline passed on Tuesday. Bogor Diocese judicial vicar Yohanes Driyanto said that setting up such a system was not easy as few priests had mastered canon law.
The police investigation into the alleged abuse by Syahril sets a good precedent as the Church used to seek out-of-court settlements, which in the Depok case did not stop the crime. Catholic women activists believe the Depok scandal is just the tip of the iceberg, because most of the victims are afraid to speak up and demand justice.
Weekly magazine Warta Minggu, published by the Tomang Catholic parish in West Jakarta, quoted the data presented by the Bishops Council of Indonesia (KWI) seminary commission secretary Joseph Kristanto last year that at least 56 people were allegedly subject to sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. But KWI chairman and Jakarta Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo denied any knowledge of the report.
“I, as the archbishop of the Jakarta Archdiocese and as the chairman of the KWI, never received such a report. Therefore, if you ask me, I don’t know,” he told The Jakarta Post.
Justice must be served in the Depok case, as well as in other abuses perpetrated by the powerful against the weak, especially women and children. What happened in the Depok church could happen in schools, universities, Islamic boarding schools, the film industry, workplaces, public spaces and even at home.
The Post has collaborated with Tirto.id and VICE Indonesia in revealing sexual abuse allegedly committed in higher-education institutions across Indonesia. The project, called #NamaBaikKampus (Campus Reputation), has been nominated for the Public Service Journalism award by the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA).
We believe that unequal power relationships are the main cause of sexual abuse and in most cases provide impunity to the perpetrators. This must end.
Especially for the Catholic Church in Indonesia, a mechanism that encourages victims to report sexual abuse is urgent. More importantly, the state’s commitment to the protection of the vulnerable should be manifested in policies that respect their rights and ensure their well-being.