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Jakarta Post

Time for Catholic Church to decide which side of history it is on

  • Evi Mariani
    Evi Mariani

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, August 11, 2020   /   08:31 am
Time for Catholic Church to decide which side of history it is on Sexual abuse in church (JP/Hengky Wijaya)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” — Matthew 11:28.

During much of my formative years growing up as a Catholic, this particular verse reverberated in my heart. Part of that sentence is etched on an arc above the altar in Bandung’s Cathedral, one of the churches I frequented when I was in high school.

The verse speaks to me, and the Catholic Church, in my mind, was an institution offering a lot of compassion to the weary and burdened.

Later years taught me that the institution is not perfect, although the current Pope, Francis, has shown that compassion remains the Church’s most important value.

After a joint investigative work involving The Jakarta Post and Tirto.id on alleged sexual abuse within the institution and its apparent attempt to cover the cases up, my knowledge was confirmed. The Catholic Church does not always offer compassion to sexual abuse victims, despite their weariness and burden.

For this coverage we initially talked to five victims and later, after our first batch of reports had appeared, two more victims spoke up. Five of them said they had fallen prey to sexual abuse committed by ordained priests; two said they were abused by a brother and a layman acting as an altar boys coordinator.

Six of the seven victims suffered abuse in their childhood and have been silent for decades. Most of them only realized they had fallen victim to sexual abuse when they grew up and felt reluctant to file reports against people they respected for many reasons.

Four of them have to cope with the fact that the alleged perpetrator, a priest, remains at a parish in West Jakarta that they belong to, with access to children at a nearby school.

I have talked to several sexual abuse victims, and gaining their trust to talk to me was not easy. It takes compassion, understanding and knowledge about the psychology of the weary and burdened.

When asked whether the Carmelite order would open an investigation or reach out to the victims, Father Budiono, the head of the Carmelites in Indonesia, told the Post: “As leaders, we are open to reports or complaints. They should have filed reports directly with us and informed us of their clear identity.” He said victims could make reports by phone, too.

Such statement seems to welcome reports, but filing them involves several requirements that may dissuade victims, already scared, from reporting. It doesn’t inspire compassion but rather imparts that the Carmelites are ready to dismiss any reports that do not meet the requirements.

We have tried to ask the new head of the Maria Bunda Karmel parish, Father Krispinus Ginting, about the possibility of launching an internal investigation into the alleged role of one of his fellow priests. Father Ginting has yet to respond to our question.

Such inaction comes on the heels of the Vatican’s release of a guideline for investigating and reporting alleged cases of sexual abuse against minors and others by priests, deacons and prelates.

The handbook stipulates, among other things, how to conduct a preliminary investigation after receiving “a possible delict”. A possible delict “can be made known through the communications media (including social media); it can come to his knowledge through hearsay or in any other adequate way,” the handbook says.

This suggests that our joint reports should have been enough for the Church authorities to find a possible delict and start a preliminary investigation.

Some advocates of sexual abuse victims in the Catholic Church globally still think that the Vatican’s policies on sexual abuse are not enough. However, in the case of the Indonesian Catholic Church, even these “insufficient” policies have not been implemented.

In fact, few people in the Catholic Church talk openly about this. When a priest, Father Joseph Kristanto, talked about sexual abuse cases in Church at a seminar last year and was later published in a Catholic magazine, the Indonesian Catholic Church top leader, Ignatius Cardinal Suharyo, reprimanded Father Kristanto and denied any knowledge of the data the priest had presented.

This act of denial apparently has inspired other higher-ups in the Church. We asked 10 priests for an interview for this report. Some of them did not reply, some denied any knowledge of any case, one admitted to having heard of a case but refused to go into details, and those who granted us an interview did not talk about actual cases and how the Church handled the cases, except for the cases at St. Herkulanus Church in Depok, West Java, which did not involve a priest.

Even with my limited knowledge about victims, the Indonesian Catholic Church hardly helped victims report abuse.

There are a few exceptions, like the Society of Jesus’ promise to establish a protocol for reporting, which would include laypeople, including women. But overall, the Indonesian Catholic Church has not caught up with change at the Vatican.

A milestone in the history of humankind, in which the Vatican dismantles decades of silence and secrecy, is unfolding. Dear Indonesian Catholic Church, which side of history are you on? That of the victims, or that of the perpetrators?

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." — Matthew 11:29-30.

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Staff writer at The Jakarta Post