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Lay group seeks action to prevent abuses by priests in Indonesia

Issues call for greater awareness as part of annual '16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence' campaign

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Lay group seeks action to prevent abuses by priests in Indonesia

Religious men and women as well as laypeople pose for a photo after a discussion program on sexual abuse prevention in the Catholic Church on Nov. 30 in Jakarta by Mitra ImaDei. (Photo: Katharina R. Lestari/ucanews)

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An independent church lay group has called for greater awareness about sexual abuse in the Indonesian Catholic Church.

Considering the scandals that have made headlines globally in recent years, efforts must be made to ensure similar incidents do not blight the Church in Indonesia, the group, Mitra ImaDei, said.

“We want to prevent sexual abuse from happening in the Catholic Church. Everyone has the responsibility to prevent this from happening. It is not only the responsibility of the Catholic hierarchy,” Antonia Iswanti, the group’s director, told ucanews.

She was speaking at a Nov. 30 discussion on the protection of children and women from sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests. The discussion was held as part of an international campaign called “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.”

The annual campaign, started by activists at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991, kicked off on Nov. 25 on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and ends on Dec. 10 — Human Rights Day.

Iswanti said one way was to ensure more lay people were aware of a book titled Catholic Church’s Professional Ministry and Power Abuse, which was launched in 2018 by the Indonesian bishops’ Commission for Seminaries and the Joint Body of Ongoing Priestly Formation in Indonesia.

It sets out guidelines on what is expected of priests and religious people and the damage sexual abuse committed by church people can do.  

“Many Catholic laypeople have not heard about the book because it was introduced only to religious men and women. It is also important for Catholic laypeople, particularly lay ministers, to see this also,” she said.

Father Joseph Kristanto, secretary of the bishops’ commission and editor of the book, acknowledged that apart from a few seminars not much has been done to circulate the book’s message on sex abuse. 

“But we will try to build more awareness in church circles. Next year we will hold more seminars in more dioceses to discuss the issue, including in East Nusa Tenggara province,” he told ucanews.

A diocese in the province had its own scandal recently when Bishop Hubertus Leteng of Ruteng was accused by his own priests of misappropriating church funds and keeping a mistress before he quit in 2017.

“Each religious order was expected to draft their own protocols to deal with sex abuse following the seminars,” Father Kristanto said. 

Ursuline Sister Amanda, coordinator of her congregation’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Committee, suggested that awareness should be instilled through a short catechesis during Sunday Masses.

“Such awareness is very important for religious men and women as well as laypeople. I believe, by doing this, they will gradually understand how to prevent sexual abuse in the Catholic Church,” she told ucanews.

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