Holy Cross Bishop Antonius Subianto Bunjamin of Bandung has been appointed by the Vatican to look into the Ruteng Diocese dispute. (Photo courtesy of the Indonesian bishops' conference)
The Holy See has appointed an apostolic visitator to look into claims by Indonesian rebel priests that their bishop kept a mistress and misappropriated church funds.
Holy Cross Bishop Antonius Subianto Bunjamin of Bandung was assigned to investigate and will visit Ruteng Diocese on Flores Island next week.
Bishop Bunjamin, who is also general secretary of the Indonesian bishops' conference, told ucanews.com on Aug. 8 that the Vatican had asked him to verify whether accusations against Bishop Hubertus Leteng of Ruteng that he misused money and had an alleged affair with a woman were true.
Bishop Bunjamin's appointment came soon after it was announced on social media that Catholics from Ruteng Diocese living in Jakarta would gather at the Apostolic Nunciature for a vigil calling for a speedy resolution to the row.
Bishop Bunjamin said the gathering would "worsen the situation."
"The Vatican through Propaganda Fidei [the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples] has taken serious action," he said.
He said the dispute was "tarnishing the church's image."
The conflict in Ruteng Diocese erupted on June 12 when 69 diocesan priests submitted letters of resignation, quitting their posts as episcopal vicars and parish priests and demanded that Bishop Leteng change how the diocese is run.
The move followed allegations last year that the bishop secretly borrowed US$94,000 from the Indonesian bishops' conference and US$30,000 from the diocese without providing an accountability report.
In a meeting, the 58-year-old bishop is said to have told the priests the money was used to finance the education of a youth from a poor family who was studying to be a pilot in the United States. When asked for details, he told them that it was none of their business.
However, the priests suspect the money went to a woman who they allege 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.
Bishop Leteng denied the allegation, calling it "slanderous."
Bishop Bunjamin said he needed people to be patient and that no conclusions would be drawn until he had examined all relevant information.
"We continue to appreciate the principle of presumption of innocence," he said.
The bishop added there was no time limit on his investigation.
"If verification can be completed quickly, I will submit a report to the Vatican promptly. The decision will be from Rome based on that result," he said.
Father Robert Pelita, episcopal vicar of Labuan Bajo and one of the rebel priests welcomed the Vatican's move.
"This can prevent further disunity," he said, adding that they will definitely prepare all the evidence they have.