Bishop Hubertus Leteng of Ruteng has been asked to resign by some priests for allegedly misappropriating church funds. (Photo by Ronaldus Tarsan)
Several priests in Indonesia's Ruteng Diocese are pressuring their flock to back their under fire bishop as a split emerges over allegations that the prelate misappropriated church funds.
At least 69 of 167 diocesan priests quit their posts in June and, together with lay groups, have urged Bishop Hubertus Leteng to resign for allegedly misappropriating more than US$100,000 and have called on the Vatican to fire him.
But, in recent weeks, some loyalist priests on Flores Island have been using the pulpit to defend the bishop.
Father John Mustaram, in charge of St. Gregory Parish in Borong, defended the prelate in a statement at a Wedding Mass that has since gone viral on social media.
He called accusations against Bishop Leteng — which include him having an affair — slander and warned other priests and lay Catholics not to speak against the prelate.
He also warned parishioners not to speak ill of the bishop.
"If a husband insults the bishop, his wife and his children will be cursed," he said.
A bishop appointed by the Vatican can only be dismissed by the Vatican, he added.
Another priest reportedly backed the bishop by accusing local media of playing up the row.
According to local news website Floresa.co, a priest calling himself Father Rustam Effendy said the publicity was a plot by non-Catholics to destroy the church.
Father Rober Pelita, episcopal vicar of Labuan Bajo and one of the rebel priests, said the allegation of financial irregularities was true.
"Bishop Leteng admitted at a meeting that he took the diocese's money," he said.
Father Pelita added that priests who still-support him also attended the meeting.
"I am surprised that they say the accusations are a lie. I suspect they say it because there is a particular vested interest," he said.
Father Simon Nama, the episcopal vicar of Borong, said their accusations against Bishop Leteng were based on facts.
"Why should we endure a lot of lies by the bishop," he said.
The row erupted on June 12, when the rebel priests accused the bishop of secretly borrowing US$94,000 from the Indonesian bishops' conference and US$30,000 from the diocese without providing an accountability report.
According to the priests, Bishop Leteng told them at the meeting attended by Father Pelita that the money was used to finance a youth from a poor family who was studying to be a pilot in the United States, but refused to give details about the boy, saying it was none of their business.
The priests suspect the money went to a woman who they believe the bishop was having an affair with. The alleged affair surfaced in 2014 after a priest who chose to leave the priesthood went public with the allegation.
The case has been raised with the Vatican, after rebel priests met the papal nuncio to Indonesia, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi, in Jakarta.
A bishops' conference source told ucanews.com previously that the Vatican would make a decision on the matter after the nuncio met Bishop Leteng on July 7.
However, the source said on July 19, that the Vatican has yet to make a decision and that the complaint against the bishop had to go through proper channels.
Bishop Leteng has not responded to several requests for comment.