West Papua Catholics demand their bishop's removal

Inaction by Bishop Hilarion Datus Lega allowed dispute between two priests become an ethnic feud, protesters say
West Papua Catholics demand their bishop's removal

Catholics in Manokwari-Sorong diocese, West Papua province, stage a rally in Sorong on Sept. 12 against Bishop Hilarion Datus Lega, who they say is no longer able to lead the diocese. (Photo supplied by Frans Michael)

Angry Catholics in Indonesia's West Papua province are calling for their "foreign" bishop to quit and be replaced by a native-born Papuan priest.

The anger allegedly stems from a dispute between two priests that turned into an ethnic feud, which the diocese does not seem willing to confirm.

Hundreds of Catholics took to the streets of Sorong in Manokwari-Sorong diocese on Sept. 12, to demand the resignation of Bishop Hilarion Datus Lega who they accused of being arrogant, discriminatory and unable to solve problems affecting the diocese.

Diocesan officials, however, denied the accusations, saying everything was fine.

In a statement read out during the rally, Flores-born Bishop Datus Lega was also accused of not respecting indigenous Papuan priests.

"He is not a good and right leader of Catholics. He is not a true shepherd according to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church," the statement said.

One of the protesters, Alosius Siep, said the bishop should be replaced by a Papuan-born cleric.

"We have a lot of qualified priests to replace him," Papua-based news portal teropongnews.com quoted him as saying.

Some 250 police were deployed to monitor the protest, which passed off peacefully.

In a statement received by ucanews.com, several priests in the diocese defended Bishop Lega, saying there were no problems between the bishop and his priests and that the protesters were small in number.

 "[They are] a small group of people who are only acting on behalf of themselves," the priests said in the statement signed by the vicar-general, Father Lewi Bori.

The priests also called on other Catholics in the diocese to remain united and not be easily provoked.

"Let us not let ourselves be consumed by false information and spread false rumors," they said.

However, a lay Catholic in the diocese who asked for anonymity, told ucanews.com that the Sorong rally was biggest yet after several similar protests were staged in recent weeks.

He said the problems began in April when diocesan treasurer Father Rudy Renyaan — a Papuan — threatened to kill Father Paul Tan an ethnic Chinese priest over a financial dispute.

 The death threat later landed the Papuan with a 13-month prison sentence.

"[I think] local people are angry, particularly those who attended the trial. They blamed the bishop for not taking action sooner to mediate the dispute and they feel he allowed it to get to a stage where one of them — namely the Papuan — ended up in jail," the layman said.

"As a result, it has caused tension between two ethnic groups because the two priests were from different ethnic backgrounds," he said.

Father Renyaan is currently in Sorong prison, while Father Tan has been transferred to Jayapura Diocese, in neighboring Papua province.

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