The Jakarta Post
The Philippines-based Catholic religious order the Blessed Sacrament Missionaries of Charity (BSMC) was largely unknown to the Indonesian public until one of its members, Lukas Lucky Ngalngola, calling himself Brother Angelo and later Geovanny, put the congregation on the map, and for all the wrong reasons.
Angelo allegedly abused orphanage boys under his care, sexually and physically. While the abuse against the boys who lived at the Kencana Bejana Rohani orphanage that Angelo set up in 2015 in Depok, West Java, was reported to the police in September last year, the crime was revealed to the public only very recently after victims and child protection activists spoke out in the media.
Collective efforts coordinated by the state-sponsored Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) are being made to prosecute Angelo after a lack of action taken against him brought state institutions in charge of child protection, including the KPAI, as well as the Catholic Church, into the spotlight. He was arrested by the Depok Police in September 2019 but was released three months later as the police failed to complete the dossiers for the prosecutor’s office to bring the case to court.
The Catholic Church, in this particular case Bogor Diocese, had washed its hands of the case, reiterating to the public that Angelo was not a Catholic brother. The diocese holds a letter dated Sept. 19, 2019 to be the basis of their claim. The letter said the BSMC was not a Catholic order and that Angelo should not wear a robe. But Angelo continues to wear the brown robe of a brother and along with other brothers from the BSMC, set up another orphanage after he walked free in December. He has continued these activities without any hindrance, collecting money from individual Catholic donors while Bogor Diocese has turned a blind eye.
The Jakarta Post investigated the BSMC and has found that it is an obscure Catholic order based in the Philippines. It has yet to receive any official acknowledgement from the Indonesian Catholic Church, although the BSMC has managed to convince several clergymen to recommend them. On Sept. 7, the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) issued a circular to all bishops informing them about Angelo and the BSMC and to be careful in making decisions regarding anything related to the subjects.
Yet, despite all this, the BSMC brothers including Angelo continue to woo donors and operate under a religious guise. How has this obscure order managed to do this for so long? How does the Indonesian Catholic Church verify whether an order is legitimate or not?
Angelo, a native of Tanimbar, an island in Maluku, is still at liberty. He has changed his name to Brother Geovanny, and set up a new orphanage a few months after his release, living among vulnerable boys again, as well as a few other BSMC brothers. In spite of all the allegations, which have never been dropped, he has requested that the BSMC be given a permit to work under the supervision of the parent institution from Palangkaraya diocese in Central Kalimantan so that he can conduct missionary work using the name of the BSMC in the area after being rejected by Bogor diocese.
On Sept. 19, 2019, five days after Angelo’s arrest, the Bishop of Bogor Paskalis Bruno Syukur issued an internal announcement declaring that BSMC was a questionable congregation because of a lack of legal documents and decrees required by the Catholic Church. Thus, according to Bogor diocese, Angelo was not a Catholic brother and therefore was banned from carrying out work on behalf of the church, emphasizing that any legal action against Angelo was solely related to him as an individual.
The decision made by Bogor diocese was kept internal until Angelo’s story became known to the public through an investigation undertaken by The Jakarta Post in collaboration with Tirto.id. This prompted the KWI to issue its Sept. 7 circular.
The Bishop of Palangkaraya Aloysius Maryadi Sutrisnaatmaka confirmed that he received the circular on Sept. 7. He told the Post that he had a meeting two days later to talk about Angelo’s request for recognition and supervision, which had been submitted to Palangkaraya diocese under the name of Geovanny.
“We have decided to reject the BSMC,” Sutrisnaatmaka told the Post on Sept. 10.
Apparently, Angelo’s notoriety exceeds that of his congregation reputation as very little is known about the BSMC, including among priests and leaders of the Catholic Church in this country. KWI executive secretary Ewaldus, for example, spoke very briefly about the congregation in response to the Post‘s question about the BSMC. “You must find other priests who know about it [the BSMC] because I am totally in the dark,” he said via a text message on Sept. 9.
The BSMC has no official website that provides comprehensive information about its history, spirituality or its work either in the Philippines, where it is based, or elsewhere including in Indonesia, unlike other religious orders that are officially recognized by the Catholic Church. The very limited information about the congregation is available only through old blog posts that seem to be individually crafted, and through the congregation’s Facebook page that mostly presents photos of the members and their activities.
BSMP or BSMC?
According to two posts available on internet sources that were accessible as of Sunday, the BSMC was originally called the Blessed Sacrament Missionaries of the Poor (BSMP). It draws on the compassion and charitable works of Mother Theresa of Calcutta in serving the poor. Headquartered in Binan City, the congregation has Brother Anthony Bautista as its leader. Angelo once claimed that Bautista was the “superior general”, the most senior leader of an order globally.
The website, which is said to relate to the diocese of Malolos in the Philippines, says that Bautista, who was then a “temporary professed member of the Missionaries of Charity”, a religious congregation established by Mother Theresa in 1950, started to develop a community that later became the BSMP in around March 1990.
It is unclear whether the Malolos diocese has recognized the BSMP or approves of its work in the area as the information available on the diocese’s website only mentions “though there was no formal declaration of the bishop’s affirmation of the suggestion [to build the BSMP community in the diocese], Bro. Anthony was instructed by the monsignor [Aguinaldo, a priest from a local parish, the first person whom Anthony met to seek approval to set up the intended religious community] to begin their aspirations already”. The diocese’s website also puts the BSMP in the category of “charitable institution” rather than “religious order” category. The Post could not reach the Malolos diocese for further clarification.
Brother Angelo BSMC (second left, back row) poses with children in his orphanage. (Courtesy of Kokon Production YouTube Channel/-)
It is also unclear when the BSMP changed its name to the BSMC. According to a blog post, the congregation was still called the BSMP until 2015 when it first came to Indonesia.
BSMC leader Bautista, claimed to the Post via Skype call on Aug. 23 that the congregation had never been named the BSMP. “It [the BSMC] is the original name [of the congregation]. It has been the name [of the congregation] since the beginning,” he said.
Traces of BSMC in Indonesia
As an order for Catholic brothers, Angelo claimed the BSMC was introduced to Indonesia for the first time on March 10, 2015, when Angelo arrived in Depok. He told this story to Jakarta Archdiocese magazine, Hidup, last year. The website version of the two articles has been taken down since Angelo’s alleged crimes became public last month.
An article about an orphanage in Depok, West Java, published by Catholic magazine Hidup. It includes a photo depicting the head of the orphanage, known as Brother Angelo Ngalngola, and Bogor Bishop Mgr. Paskalis Bruno. (Courtesy of/www.hidupkatolik.com)
Angelo claimed to a Hidup journalist that he met Bishop Paskalis to seek his approval to carry out charitable works within the diocese’s territory also in March, but failed to obtain it as he was required to first provide documents in regard to his congregation, which was then called the BSMP. Angelo met Paskalis again for the second time three months later on May 18, during which meeting he was granted three-month probationary status to work. In a recent interview with the Post, Paskalis said that he only approved of Angelo helping teach English to children.
Angelo’s leader, Bautista, flew from the Philippines to Depok five months later to meet Paskalis on Oct. 10, according to Angelo. That was the only meeting between the two leaders. Shortly after that, Angelo set up the Kencana Bejana Rohani foundation on Dec. 14.
Still BSMC brother
Bautista told the Post that Angelo was still a brother in the BSMC congregation despite the allegations and the legal process he had gone through. Bautista however provided contradictory statements regarding Angelo’s religious life throughout the interview. He for example told the Post that he had advised Angelo not to continue his religious life and drop his identity as a Catholic brother, and instead focus on serving the poor after he was informed about Angelo’s alleged sexual abuse against minors. But later he defended Angelo’s membership of the BSMC congregation and repeatedly emphasized that Angelo was still a BSMC brother.
“If he wants to continue serving God, well that is no longer my business but his. It’s his decision. If he is using the name of the religious order, well it depends on him. I cannot stop him,” Bautista said.
In an apparent insistence on marking the presence of the BSMC among other Catholic religious orders in Indonesia despite the controversies surrounding him and his congregation, Angelo fled to Palangkaraya recently to meet Bishop Sutrisnaatmaka to seek approval to carry out charitable works in the area.
Sutrisnaatmaka told the Post that he had not discussed Angelo’s proposal with other priests in the diocese until he received the circular from the KWI on Sept. 7.
Other than the proposal for acknowledgment submitted by Angelo, the Palangkaraya diocese also received a similar request from sisters of the BSMC led by Sister Yulia on April 18, 2018. Unlike the proposal from the BSMC brothers, the Palangkaraya diocese is processing the BSMC sisters’ intention to carry out missionary work in the area as they could provide administrative documents required by the diocese including, among other documents, a constitution and a structure of the congregation.
Recalling his conversations with Yulia and her fellow BSMC sisters during their first meetings, Sutrisnaatmaka told the Post that the sisters had undertaken their formative years to become Catholic sisters under the supervision of the BSMC congregation in the Philippines, but later declared separation from the BSMC community of brothers to ease their work in Palangkaraya, where the sisters have set up the Taman Fioreti orphanage.
“They told me that they had separated themselves from the BSMC congregation in the Philippines and set up an independent BSMC congregation of sisters with a new constitution,” Sutrisnaatmaka said.
He further explained that he did not care about what had happened with the BSMC congregation in the Philippines as his focus was only on supervising the BSMC sisters in obtaining church recognition.
Palangkaraya diocese plans to make the decision on the fate of the BSMC sisters next year if they can fulfil all the conditions required by the diocese. As Bogor diocese has thrown doubt on the authenticity of the BSMC, Palangkaraya diocese might possibly dissolve the existing BSMC congregation of sisters and ask Yulia and five other sisters to join other congregations that have been officially recognized by Palangkaraya diocese.
“But please bear in mind that the process is still ongoing. We haven’t made any decisions,” Sutrisnaatmaka stressed, adding that the process could take longer than expected.