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Indonesian priest kicks off storm over flood aid money

Use of social media to accuse other priests of impropriety irks colleagues, laypeople

Indonesian priest kicks off storm over flood aid money

Indonesian President Joko Widodo visits disaster-hit Lembata district in East Nusa Tenggara province on April 9. (Photo: Cabinet Secretariat of the Republic of Indonesia)

A priest in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province has caused a storm within the local Church by accusing several priests of impropriety in handling funds raised to help victims of deadly floods that struck the area last month.

The Church is raising money to help victims of Tropical Cyclone Seroja that ravaged the islands of Lembata and Adonara during the Easter period.

Of the 181 who died in the disaster, 72 were from Adonara and 67 from Lembata.

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However, Divine Word Father Charles Beraf of Holy Spirit Parish in Ende district said several priests were having people send aid money to their personal bank accounts instead of to a special relief or church account.  

His accusation came in a May 3 post on his Facebook page.

Father Beraf said the priests, who were not named, had brought the priesthood into disrepute by using their private bank accounts to receive funds.

I was concerned because the problem was aired on social media. There are other ways to settle it

Money raised in his parish for cyclone victims was deposited in the bank account of the Divine Word’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Commission in Ende, he added.

According to him, the priests should have used a JPIC account like him or one used by Caritas, the Church’s social arm.

However, Father Beraf’s accusation did not go down too well with some clergy and laypeople who criticized him for going public on social media.

Father Sinyo da Gomes, head of Lembata Diocese’s episcopal vicariate, was one to voice his displeasure.

He said that although he welcomes input or criticism, “as a fellow priest, I was concerned because the problem was aired on social media. There are other ways to settle it.” 

He also denied any impropriety had taken place, saying there is no problem with the use of private bank accounts as long as transactions are open and transparent.

In this case, the priests mentioned by Father Beraf had declared how they would deposit funds and have provided evidence as to how the money is being spent, Father Gomes told UCA News. 

He said funds are still being received and a proportion is being kept to finance rehabilitation and reconstruction programs.

“The accusation [by Father Beraf] has appeared several times on social media in connection with what the Church is doing in Lembata, but it was never discussed or explained to me as head of the episcopal vicariate,” he added.

Maksi Mbangur, a Catholic layman, said he was also unhappy Father Beraf had posted his complaint on social media, saying the priest should have taken his concern directly to the accused priests’ bishop or provincial.

Communication is very important among priests, so airing complaints in public will only cause divisions, he said. 

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