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Mutinous Indonesian priests quit posts in bishop protest

At least 69 resign after accusing Ruteng bishop of misappropriating funds, having an affair

Mutinous Indonesian priests quit posts in bishop protest

Bishop Hubertus Leteng of Ruteng denies allegations of financial irregularities and of having an affair. (Photo by Ronaldus Tarsan)

Ryan Dagur, Jakarta and Ronaldus Tarsan, Ruteng

June 15, 2017

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Dozens of rebellious Indonesian priests have quit their posts en masse after accusing a bishop on the Catholic majority island of Flores of embezzling more than US$100,000 of church funds for personal use.

At least 69 priests from Ruteng Diocese submitted letters of resignation this week quitting their posts as episcopal vicars and parish priests, and demanded that Bishop Hubertus Leteng heed their calls for a complete overhaul of how the diocese is run.

Father Marthen Chen, their spokesman, said the overhaul is desperately needed "so the church can be truly in line with the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

"We demand renewal in pastoral work as well as in church and financial management," Father Chen told reporters, without elaborating.

However, some priests told that they were forced to take action because previous attempts at dialogue with Bishop Leteng had gone nowhere.

"We would not have done this had there been a positive response to our demands," said a member of the priest's council who asked not to be named.

One of the problems is related to Bishop Leteng misusing funds, he said.

He claimed the bishop last year secretly borrowed US$94,000 from the Indonesian Bishops' Conference in Jakarta and US$30,000 from the diocese, but failed to provide an accountability report.

He also said that in a meeting, Bishop Leteng told priests the money was used to finance the education of a youth from a poor family who was studying to be a pilot in the United States.

When the priests asked for details, the bishop told them that it was none of their business, he said.


Suspicions of an affair

Last year 112 of 167 diocesan priests signed a letter of no confidence in the bishop, according to the priest who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The priests suspect the money went to a women the bishop is alleged to be having an affair with, he said. 

In 2014, a priest who claimed to know about the alleged affair chose to leave the priesthood and go public. In a video that went viral, the priest said he was disappointed with what the bishop had done.

The bishop denied the allegation, calling it "slanderous."

Another priest — who also wanted anonymity — confirmed that the bishop's conference investigated the case and a report was submitted to the Vatican.

"However, the Vatican has not taken action yet," he said.

Bishop Leteng told reporters on June 12 that he did not want priests to leave their posts, but stepping down "was their free choice."

"If you love the church, you must create calm among people," he said.

Bishop Leteng refused to comment about the allegations against him.

The row has also sparked debate among Catholics and on social media.

Rikard Rahmat, a lay Catholic from the diocese, believed that there is a very serious moral-ethical issue involving the leadership of the diocese.

"If it's not solved through dialogue among them, there is a need for outside help, such as the Vatican," he said.

Patris Agat, chairman of the Catholic Students Association in Ruteng said, given that this issue is already public, the church must take it seriously.

"Catholics in the diocese want it resolved immediately," he said.

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