Speakers during an online forum in Indonesia on Sept. 9 have urged Catholic Church to be proactive and tackle sexual abuse seriously. (Photo supplied)
A forum of priests, nuns, laypeople, and activists in Indonesia has urged the Catholic Church hierarchy to tackle sexual abuse head-on and to end the practice of cover-up for the sake of protecting the church’s image.
The online discussion was held in collaboration between Let’s Talk About Sex and Sexualities, and Yayasan Sesawi dan Kawal Gereja (Mustard and Church Watchdog Foundation), a lay Catholic group, on Sept. 9.
The organizers said the event sought to encourage Church leaders to be serious and proactive in investigating sexual violence within the church, in line with Pope Francis’ commitment to zero tolerance for sex abuse.
Jesuit Father Franz Magnis-Suseno, former professor at the Jakarta-based Driyarkara School of Philosophy told the forum the Indonesian Church was only at the stage of "starting to become aware" of this problem, in contrast to countries in Europe and America, as it has begun to take serious steps to tackle sexual abuse in recent years.
He said the Church needs to acknowledge and realize there are still “strong efforts to deny such cases and to cover up.”
“For example, a person who commits sexual violence is indeed reprimanded, considered a sinner, and if he is a priest he may be removed from his place of duty. What is completely missing is the perspective of the victim,” the priest said.
He emphasized that the most important point in the fight against this issue is that "we must not stop at the talk, at repentance that it is a sin."
“What is necessary is an act of repentance within the church itself. So, we have to ask, how has it been done so far," he said.
Catholic feminist theologian Agustina Prasetyo Murniati said that Catholics must also be aware of the hierarchical structure of the church, where there is “a very strong pattern of unequal relations.”
“This construction makes people experience a hierarchical syndrome. There is an unequal power-based relationship between church officials and the people. This construction is very strong up to the parish level. The parish priest, for example, is like a king in his parish,” she said.
"Because of this unequal relationship, those who are in inferior positions do not dare to bring up problems that are done by superiors, especially when superior people are not humble," she said.
There is no official data regarding the number of sexual abuse cases in the Indonesian Catholic Church.
However, recently two sexual abuse cases have reached court and punishments have been handed out.
In January 2021, a church worker from Bogor Diocese was sentenced to 15 years for sexually abusing altar boys. In another case, a Catholic brother was jailed for 14 years for sexually assaulting boys at an orphanage near the capital Jakarta.
In a statement, the organizers of the online discussion stated that it is highly likely that there are still many unreported cases.
These cases have not been revealed due to the "refutation efforts that are still often heard from various church authorities against sexual violence and the public who are also not fully aware of the procedures, mechanisms, and policies of the church in dealing with sexual abuse,” the statement said.
Good Shepherd Sister Lusiana Rahayu who provides assistance to sexual abuse victims, including those abused in the Catholic church, said that she generally found the victims to be in “a position of helplessness, shame, fear, and feeling unworthy of living as a human being” because they felt that there was no adequate support for them, including from church authorities.
The online forum was part of a series of awareness programs in Indonesia that seek to fight sexual violence, which began to be widely exposed, including in religious institutions in recent times.
In November last year, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology issued guidelines for preventing and handling sexual crimes on campuses.
A month later, the National Council for Catholic Education also issued similar guidelines for Catholic schools across the country.
In April, the Indonesian parliament passed a long-awaited Sexual Violence Bill, first submitted in 2016.