Vatican requires Indonesian bishop to return 'stolen money'

The missing money allegedly went to a woman who many claim the bishop was having an affair with
Vatican requires Indonesian bishop to return 'stolen money'

Bishop Hubertus Leteng resigned Oct. 11 over allegations of stealing church money and spending it on a woman. (Photo by Father Erick Ratu)

The Holy See has asked Indonesian Bishop Hubertus Leteng, who recently resigned over allegations of theft and having an affair, to return the church funds he is accused of stealing.

The request over the missing money was not mentioned in an Oct. 11 announcement by Vatican of the resignation.

However, according to Father Robert Pelita, who participated in a meeting between officials of the Vatican, Indonesian Bishops' Conference and Ruteng Diocese, the request was made directly to Bishop Leteng.

"The Vatican representative said that in principle the money must be returned," Father Pelita told Oct. 13, although the Vatican did not say when the bishop should pay it back.

Pope Francis approved the resignation of the 58-year-old bishop following the investigation into allegations that he 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 with the priests in the diocese, Bishop Leteng said the money was being used to fund the education of a poor youth in the United States, but he failed to provide further details. 

In protest against Bishop Leteng's actions, 68 rebel priests in the diocese resigned as episcopal vicars and parish priests.

They suspected the missing money went to a woman who they allege the bishop was having an affair with.

Bishop Leteng did not respond to a request to comment publicly on repayment of the missing money.

However, a diocesan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that at a recent meeting Bishop Leteng promised to return all of the funds.

Since the case went public, he has repaid 75 million rupiah (US$5,555) of the money he took from the diocese, the source said.

Bishop Leteng has said he will gradually repay money owed to the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference. 

Officials at the Indonesia Bishops Conference refused to comment, saying that the case is under the Vatican’s authority.

Bishop Leteng is still in Ruteng, but according to Father Agustinus Manfred Habur, the bishop's secretary, the Vatican on Oct. 11 gave him 10 days to leave the diocese.

"However, where he will move is the secret of the Vatican," he said.

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Sirilus Belen, a Catholic lay leader, said all bishops should learn from the crisis in Ruteng Diocese, the first of its type for the Indonesian Catholic Church.

"A bishop has tremendous power, in which legislative, executive, and judicial powers are in one hand," Belen said Oct.13.

"There are no checks and balances, which can be an opportunity for abuse of power, including in financial matters."

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