The Jakarta Post
Top officials in the Catholic Church have said that they are coming up with a protocol to protect minors and vulnerable adults, but they reiterated that physically and mentally able adult women who have sexual relations with clergymen – consensual or otherwise – will not be the beneficiary of the protocol.
While admitting there were power dynamics and cases of power abuse between clergymen and laywomen or nuns, Father Sunu Hardiyanta, who has been working on a system to prevent and handle cases of sexual abuse at the Catholic Church since 2012, told The Jakarta Post and Tirto.id that the topic of handling cases involving adult women was different and required “a separate protocol”.
“Adult relationships are more an ethical matter, code of conduct, a wrong behavior,” he said. “The most important thing here is correct authority, correct leadership.”
Sunu’s statement is in line with Ignatius Cardinal Suharyo’s statement in December: “[The Pope] is very strict toward priests who have sexually abused minors and adults with disabilities. Women are not included on the list. That’s because cases of abuse among adults are different,” Suharyo, who is also the Archbishop of Jakarta, said.
The Vatican’s definition of vulnerable adults has been the subject of heated debate globally. It defines a vulnerable adult in the context of abuse cases as anyone who is “in an infirm state, of physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal freedom, that in fact, even occasionally, limits their capacity to intend or to want or in any way to resist the offense”. The definition was issued in March last year.
Father Sunu said an adult woman who was having a temporary psychological problem (undergoing a serious problem at home, for example) and involved in a sexual relationship with a priest to which she sought help when she was down did not fall into the category of “vulnerable adult”.
‘Patriarchy in the Catholic Church’
Some people who know of cases in which an adult woman has been in a relationship with a clergyman refuse to go into semantics over what constitutes vulnerability. To them, women who are suffering need help from the Church to gain justice. But often times, these women do not get it from the Church and have to bear the brunt of any burdens that might arise from the relationship.
Sister Chatarina Supatmiyati said in a public discussion held by independent Catholic media outlet Katolikana that “patriarchy in the Catholic Church” had led to refusal from the Church’s elites or officials to regard adult women as victims of sexual abuse. Most of them see the problem as a mere violation of the chastity oath.
In a rare bold admission, however, Chatarina discussed the sufferings of women who got involved in relationships with priests. She has witnessed several cases in which a woman had to raise her children alone while being ostracized from society, while the priest who fathered the children continued on as respected figure in a different place.
“Ordained priests that have high status in the society can easily ‘manipulate’ their target of lust,” said John Mansford Prior, an ordained member of the Society of the Divine Word. (JP/Hengky Wijaya)
Human rights activists have called on the Church to help these women more. One of them is Iswanti, an activist with church lay group Mitra ImaDei. She argued that women could be in a “vulnerable condition” even if they were physically and mentally able, as they could face certain problems or mental health issues, such as depression.
“Even when the women are not having problems, they are still in a vulnerable situation due to the power dynamics,” Iswanti said, explaining how such dynamics could occur in “a very subtle way” such as through deception or manipulation, with the person in power abusing their authority toward unethical ends.
Another activist, Mike Verawati Tangka, who on several occasions has helped victims of sexual abuse by clergymen, said that power relations played a significant role in special relationships between religious leaders and adult women.
“[These relationships] would have never happened in the first place if the clergymen, who are the powerful parties, did not start them,” Mike said.
“People always say it’s the woman’s mistake for being willing to enter a relationship with a religious leader, while in fact these women are the vulnerable ones.”
Activist Damairia Pakpahan further underlined that the presence of an authority figure in these cases had prevented women from achieving a “fair solution” to the sexual abuse they experienced.
‘He doesn’t deserve respect’
In some cases, victims who report abuse to Church leaders or institutions are silenced, with the accused priest only facing mild punishment, such as the transfer to another parish. “It is not a solution. It is merely a means of transferring a problem to another place,” said Damairia.
One woman, who has chosen to go by the alias Dea to protect her privacy, has sought justice over a relationship with a Catholic priest at Santo Aloysius Gonzaga Church in East Jakarta in 2008. She has called for the priest to be stripped of his religious title because she believes that “he does not deserve such respect anymore”.
When contacted for clarification over the issue on July 23, the priest did not respond.
About two weeks after Dea was introduced to the priest, identified only as Father M, he went to her new restaurant with three young Catholic activists. “Kiss me,” he is alleged to have said to Dea when no one was listening. Dea just smiled and ignored him. In the following days, the priest allegedly continued to pursue a sexual relationship with Dea by playing footsie, tugging her arm, attempting to hug her, asking for kisses and engaging in verbal sexual coercion. He promised marriage despite Dea’s reminder that he took a chastity oath.
Dea said she was manipulated by Father M to engage in sexual intercourse with him as he offered to marry her only within a month after the priest was appointed the new head of the parish. But the priest later denied his words when she asked him about marriage.
The news eventually reached the ears of the priest’s order leader at the Redemptorist Congregation in Indonesia (CSsR), who later visited Dea and asked for an explanation of the allegations. Dea later made a written testimony in 2008 and she reported her case to several authorities, including an official at the Jakarta Archdiocese.
“They, however, did not provide me with any solution,” she said.
Not long after, the priest was transferred to Indonesia CSsR’s headquarters in Sumba, East Nusa Tenggara, Dea said. She hoped that he would be dismissed as an ordained priest but, as of today, Father M is still a priest, although, to Dea’s knowledge, he does not have any duties at the Church.
The Post and Tirto.id did not receive a response after contacting CSsR leader Wilhelmus Ngongo Palla for comment.
An ordained member of the Society of the Divine Word, John Mansford Prior, who has worked as an educator for almost 40 years, has criticized the common practice of transferring “priests in trouble” to other places, and therefore urged the Church to uncover and settle all cases of alleged abuse.
“The practice of hiding such cases to protect the Church’s reputation will only exacerbate this scandal,” Prior said.
He said in an email sent to the Post and Tirto.id on July 20 that based on his observations as an educator in many places – including Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and numerous locations in Indonesia – only around 50 percent of ordained priests “never got entangled in [cases of] sexual harassment or intimate relationships that violated their calling”.
Prior has worked in eastern Indonesia since 1973 and is currently a lecturer at the Ledalero’s School of Theology and Philosophy in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara.
He said even though relationships between priests and adult women were different than those involving minors or vulnerable adults, he insisted that unequal power relations in patriarchal society rendered these adult women victims and the priests perpetrators.
“Ordained priests that have high status in society can easily ‘manipulate’ their target of lust,” Prior said.