Victims’ families and supporters pray the rosary while attending the trial of Syahril Marbun at Depok District Court in West Java, Indonesia. Marbun was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Jan. 6. (Photo supplied by Azas Tigor Nainggolan)
A church worker in Indonesia has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for sexually assaulting altar boys following the first-ever sexual abuse trial in a civil court involving the Indonesian Catholic Church.
Depok District Court in West Java convicted Syahril Marbun on Jan. 6 for abusing two altar boys at St. Herkulanus Parish in Depok in Bogor Diocese, where he served as liturgical coordinator.
He was also ordered to pay a fine of 200 million rupiah (US$14,360) and to compensate the two victims, aged 14 and 15, with 6.5 million and 11.5 million rupiah respectively.
The sentence was harsher than the 11 years demanded by prosecutors. The judge said it was because Marbun abused his position as an educator and guide to the boys.
The court was told the abuse began in 2002 and only ended in March 2020 when the case came to light.
A parent of one of the victims discovered what was going on and reported it to church officials, including the bishops’ Commission for Justice, Peace and Migrant-Itinerant People.
St. Herkulanus parish priest Father Yosep Sirilus Natet, who backed the legal action taken against Marbun, was with the victims’ families when the verdict was read.
The father of one of the victims said he was satisfied with the verdict.
"The ruling shows that the judge recognized the gravity of this case and the threat Marbun posed to minors," he told UCA News.
He also said the sentence "proves that our decision to take legal action was correct.”
He said the families had been accused by some people of embarrassing the Catholic Church.
Azas Tigor Nainggolan, the victims’ lawyer, said the verdict was a surprise because from his experience it is very rare for a judge to hand down a heavier sentence than that demanded by prosecutors.
"We feel that our prayers have been answered,” the Catholic lawyer told UCA News.
He said Marbun would likely face additional prison time as he also faces charges of abusing other victims, adding investigations had revealed there were at least 22 victims.
“Another good thing is other victims of such crimes will likely come forward because the perpetrator in this case has been found guilty,” he said.
Children’s rights activists say child abuse often goes unreported in Indonesia due to social stigma and the belief that authorities are unwilling to hand down stiff sentences.
"I hope whoever they are will dare to expose such crimes,” Nainggolan said.