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Indonesian police hunt for seminarian accused of child abuse

Engelbertus Lowa Sada is the third Catholic from within the church's ranks accused of child abuse
Children attend prayers at a Catholic Church in Medan, North Sumatra, on Dec. 24, 2019. A Catholic seminarian in Flores Island is currently on police wanted list for molesting a 13-year-old boy.

Children attend prayers at a Catholic Church in Medan, North Sumatra, on Dec. 24, 2019. A Catholic seminarian in Flores Island is currently on police wanted list for molesting a 13-year-old boy. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 26, 2024 12:38 PM GMT
Updated: February 27, 2024 04:04 AM GMT

Police in Indonesia’s Catholic-majority Flores Island are on the lookout for a Catholic seminarian who is absconding following allegations of molesting a minor at a seminary.

A police official said a raid team is searching for Engelbertus Lowa Sada, 27, who went into hiding since the parents of a victim filed a criminal case against him.

The Capuchin seminarian is accused of molesting a 13-year-old student of St. Yohanes Berchmans Mataloko Minor Seminary twice in 2022, said Sukandar, a police spokesperson in Ngada Regency of Flores.

Sukandar, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told UCA News on Feb. 25 that the parents filed the case on April 22, 2023, when the minor told them about the abuse.

During the time of alleged abuse, Sada was undergoing pastoral orientation, a year-long program in Indonesia before ordination as a priest that was conducted at the seminary in Ngada Regency.

Sada was also reportedly a teacher for minor seminarians.

Based on the results from an investigation, which included examining of Sada’s undergarments, police have placed him on the wanted list, Sukandar said.

"At that time [of abuse] the victim was sick, and the alleged perpetrator tried to check his body temperature," Sukandar said. “Instead of checking body temperature, Sada molested the boy."

He allegedly ran away since the police complaint was filed, prompting police to declare him “wanted” on Jan. 21, the police spokesperson said.

The case was revealed to the public on Feb. 24.

Sada faces 5-20 years in prison if convicted under Indonesian child protection laws, Sukandar said.

He said that the case files were complete and "ready to be submitted to the Ngada District Prosecutor's Office" to begin the trial.

Meanwhile, the victim "is currently being treated by a psychologist," he said.

The Capuchin Franciscan Order, to which Sada belongs, was not available for comment.

Azas Tigor Nainggolan, a lawyer and coordinator of the Indonesian bishops' Advocacy and Human Rights Forum, said he hopes this case will give a message to the public that no one is above the law, including within church institutions.

The case offers important lessons for the Church in Indonesia. One of them is the "need to care about similar problems," he said.

“The victim's courage to speak up must be supported" and the Church also must help the police find out the accused, he said.

Since 2020, Indonesian police have taken action against three Catholics accused of abuse of children. Locals say Sada’s is the first publicly revealed child abuse case in Flores Island.

In 2021, Syharil Marbun, a church worker at St. Herkulanus Parish Church in Depok in Bogor Diocese, West Java, was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for abusing 20 altar boys of the parish.

In 2022, Depok District Court in West Jawa sentenced Lukas "Lucky" Ngalngola to 14 years in prison for sexually assaulting boys at an orphanage near Jakarta, the national capital.

At least 16,854 children became victims of violence in 2023, of which 8,838 are related to sexual violence, according to data from the Ministry of Women's Empowerment and Child Protection.

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