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When a Catholic lawyer fights sexual abuse in Indonesian Church

Azas Tigor Nainggolan accompanies the victims in the first case of sexual abuse brought before a court in Indonesia

 Ryan Dagur, Jakarta

Ryan Dagur, Jakarta

Updated: December 09, 2020 03:37 AM GMT
When a Catholic lawyer fights sexual abuse in Indonesian Church

Azas Tigor Nainggolan, pictured in June 2020, speaks about sexual abuse in the Church. (Photo: Ryan Dagur/UCA News)

Almost every Monday since September, Catholic lawyer Azas Tigor Nainggolan accompanies the altar boys who were sexually abused and their families appearing at the Depok District Court in West Java.

He accompanies them against the defendant, Syahril Marbun, former altar boys’ trainer at St Herkulanus parish, Bogor diocese, the first recorded case of sexual abuse in a church brought before a civil court.

In a hearing on Nov. 30, the judge had demanded 11 years in prison to Marbun who was charged with molesting more than 20 altar boys. He was scheduled to submit a defense note on Dec. 14.

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"The demand is light and we are disappointed,” he told UCA News. “We hope the punishment will be severe, as it is an important point in cases of sexual abuse in the Indonesian church.”

Nainggolan started to be involved in investigating this case since it was first revealed in May. When it was reported to the police he facilitated dialogue with the parish priest, Bogor bishop, victims, and their families to confront Marbun.

He said the more he dug into the case the more he found various forms of abuses in the church, including affairs involving priests.

However, he admitted that the Church did not do much to process those cases, or even if they were processed, the Church would advise to resolve it internally.

"Apart from that, I found a tendency not to respond seriously to reports,” he said.

He cited the example of a recent report about a parish priest in Jakarta who was suspected of having an affair with a woman. The photos of the priest’s midnight visits to the woman’s apartment were documented and had been reported to Church authorities. Sadly, there was no action against the priest.

"I see a big problem in our Church," he said. "This must end if we are to change the face of our Church,” said Nainggolan, who also works at the human rights desk of the Indonesian Bishops’ Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant-Itinerant People.

He once lambasted Holy Family Father Ignasius Tari who wrote in Hidup magazine, a local Catholic weekly, that that the sexual abuse case against the altar boys in Herkulanus parish should be resolved internally and the Church must be able to maintain confidentiality.

Nainggolan said the priest’s opinion was “a thinking disorder.”

“This priest's way of thinking could have been chosen by many other priests to cover up cases of sexual violence in the Church. How can you side with the victims and solve it completely if the case is covered up?" Nainggolan wrote in an open letter.

"The harassment, sexual immorality and violence continue around us, including the Church, because of the attitude as written by the priest," he added.

Nainggolan said the priest is against the commitment of the Church itself, including Pope Francis.

“The Pope ordered that all cases of sexual violence that occur in churches be resolved by submitting them to the local legal authorities. So, whoever covers up such cases means he is against the Holy Father,” he said.

He added that there needs to be a stricter and binding rule for Church members to be able to change the situation.

"The perpetrators must also be fined and pay with their own money. This is an example. Don't use Church money to pay fines,” he said.

He said he received information about cases of abuse and affairs between the priest and the woman where the fine was later paid by the church.

"The money collected from the congregation was meant for church operations, not to pay the fines of the abusers," he said.

Nevertheless, he appreciated the efforts of several institutions, including several dioceses, that moved to make protocols related to child protection following the Herkulanus case.

However, it should not only be at the level of prevention. “It should also regulate action for perpetrators. If it is not strictly regulated, I am pessimistic there will be changes.”

Nainggolan's decision to speak openly was not fully supported by everyone. He said many people told him to speak “for the sake of the good name of the Church.”

However, he said, he believed his choice was right.

"How can you side with the victim if you don't speak the truth?" he said, adding that his commitment was also strengthened by the victims and their families.

He said during the trial, the victims’ families and supporters recited the Rosary prayer to seek divine guidance during the court process.

“The Rosary prayer makes all of us one, strengthens us in our fight against sexual abuse," he said.

He said accompanying the victims was part of an effort to imitate Christ "who came to earth to become a victim and fight with the victims."

"If we really want to be in solidarity with the victims, we have to humble ourselves and get closer to the victims to feel their heartbeat.”

Gaspar – not his real name – the father of an altar boy who first reported the case to the police admitted that Nainggolan opened his eyes.

"Initially, I was doubtful, but seeing his commitment, I finally wanted to fight,” he said.

"Our step is to prevent such cases from recurring in our church.”

One of the victims – who spoke on condition of anonymity –admitted that Nainggolan has changed his perspective.

"I could finally speak up and fight,” he said and hoped that the case would be solved.

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