Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, Jakarta Archbishop: Religion Conflicts Are Just a Symptom
FOR the third time, the Vatican has chosen an Indonesian archbishop to be Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. On October 5, last year, Jakarta Archbishop Monsignor Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo was installed by the head of the Holy See Pope Francis as one of the 13 new cardinals or ‘princes’ of the Church.
Father Suharyo followed the footsteps of Cardinal Justinus Darmojuwono and Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja in holding high ranks in the Vatican.
The pope has clearly taken special considerations in selecting the new cardinals this time. Those elected include interfaith dialog activists, refugee advocates and even environmental activists. “Although he did not explicitly mention this, he knows that Indonesia is the country with the largest muslim population in the world which maintains harmony (among the diverse population),” Suharyo said during a special interview with Tempo’s Sapto Yunus, Mahardika Satria Hadi and Aisha Shaidra at the Jakarta Archdiocese on December 24, 2019.
Suharyo’s appointment as the pope’s advisor also signifies Vatican’s attention to Indonesia. Vatican is one of the first European countries to recognize Indonesia’s independence. The acknowledgement is marked by the opening of an apostolic delegation in Jakarta two years after Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta declared the country’s independence.
Throughout his term as a Catholic leader, Suharyo, 69, who is also the president of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, is known for his active involvement in interfaith dialogs. He is also vocal about social issues, particularly regarding Papua and Kendeng’s farmers resistance against the construction of a cement factory. Suharyo, quoting Jesus, said that humans must show compassion for other people. “The pope also mentioned about compassion in his letter,” he said.
In a two-hour long conversation, Father Suharyo talked about various subjects, from his appointment as cardinal, his concern about social issues, intolerance, to suspected sexual abuses in Catholic churches in Indonesia.
What message did Pope Francis give you on your appointment as cardinal?
The appointment is not about power, but honor. The higher the honor you are given, the more you are expected to serve. To practice Jesus’s commandments of absolute love even via smallest acts, in all kinds of struggles. The essence is a total commitment. He also said this appointment should not be celebrated with fanfare as if to show off the promotion.
You are the only archbishop from Asia to be promoted to the rank of cardinal. How does the pope view the current situation in Indonesia?
The pope has been learning more about Indonesia lately. He grasped the size of Indonesia only after he saw the map and learned that it was not possible to travel from Sabang to Merauke via an eight-hour flight. Secondly, he always mentions Indonesia in his prayers especially when disasters strike. In his meeting with Indonesian archbishops in Vatican last June, the pope asked if Indonesia was familar with the Abu Dhabi document to which I answered in the affirmative. After the document appeared during Ramadan, the Wahid Foundation, the Maarif Institute, Gusdurian and Paramadina invited us for discussion.
(On February 4, 2019, Pope Francis and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, signed a Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together document or the Abu Dhabi Declaration in United Arab Emirates.)
What can we learn from the Abu Dhabi document?
The document mentions a list of issues that cause humanitarian problems. Interfaith communities see them as interfaith problems that need to be responded collectively and find solutions. HIV, economic inequalities, environment, poverty—it’s all there in the document.
We call it religious conflicts presumably stemmed from incorrect understanding of religions. All the religions teach peace. But why are there conflicts? The pope does not only observe Indonesia. There are also never-ending conflicts in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and so on.
The ban on celebrating and saying Christmas wishes was issued in several regions. How does the Catholic church respond to it?
Living in the Unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia, we should uphold the spirit of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution. Such discrimination should not exist, but the reality shows otherwise. I am sure if it is solely a religious issue, it will not reach that extent. Religion has surely been used as a tool for only God knows what purpose.
In Dharmasraya, West Sumatra, the police could not do anything because the people had made a pact to ban Christmas celebrations.
The regional government has the obligation to ensure the common good there. If members of the community violate the national accord, they should be notified or actions should be taken against them. But, again, it depends on the leader of that region.
Do you see a minority mindset deeply ingrained in the Catholic community (in Indonesia)?
I never talk about it among the Catholics. I say that Catholics in Indonesia have a very valuable legacy inherited from their ancestors, the pioneers of the Catholic Church in Indonesia. It’s called the love for the motherland. There are many evidences. I always mention Frans van Lith, the Dutch missionary, who chose to side with the natives because they were colonized and oppressed. There were also Soegija, Slamet Riyadi, Yos Sudarso, Adisutjipto, Karel Satsuit Tubun.
Do you think that the Christians, particularly the Catholics, in Indonesia are being persecuted?
That’s what foreign journalists say when they come here in the name of defending human rights. They believe there is persecution against Christians in Indonesia. I told them to try and stay here for a month and see if there is persecution or not. I precisely avoid such terms. We cannot deny that the problem does exist. It has been there since independence but the governments have always managed to handle it.
Has religious tolerance deteriorated since the reform era?
Clearly, there are increasing cases of intolerance. As often mentioned by experts, religious conflicts are just a symptom. Behind them are a myriad of other problems. Because religion is the easiest topic to be developed into an issue to inflame people.
In the past, were people afraid to be vocal?
People are becoming more open and there is also influence from abroad, from transnational flows. Their influence is huge. In 1998, when you wanted to communicate, you had to write a letter, or make a call. Now, news spread across the world with a click. The social media’s effects are immense.
Religion is often made into a political commodity for presidential or regional head elections. How does that affect the Christians, particularly the Catholics?
I only dare to speak from the Catholic Church’s perspective. It’s such a pity that it’s so easy to manipulate our people, our religious communities. Faith cannot be used because it is a matter of your inner relationship with God. The problem is religion has been repeatedly exploited for political gains. If someone is not afraid to use religion for dishonorable ends, then what kind of leader will they be if they win?
Does the Catholic Church choose to turn a blind eye to politics?
We have three groups in the Catholic Church. First is the hierarchy or the leadership. Second is the religious group, such as sisters and brothers. Third is laity who are ordinary non-religious hierarchy members of the Church. The hierarchy only carries out the leadership function in matters of faith and morals. They can not be involved in practical politics. Laity represents the largest group in the Church. They are the ones responsible for—in the language of the Church—sanctifying the world. They can take part in practical politics, business or any other worldly matters.
Didn’t Jesus once say, ‘Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God’?
Well, Jesus also got involved in politics, in the most basic sense. Politics literally means all kinds of efforts to ensure collective welfare and prosperity. So, it’s not about power. Had Jesus wanted power, I’m sure he would not have been killed, (chuckles)....
The pope is chosen from among the cardinals. Do you imagine becoming the pope one day?
Not at all. I don’t have any imagination. There is no such thing as career in the Catholic Church. It’s all service. I always tell prospective priests that if their ambition is to become bishop, then they’d better resign. So, cardinal is not a position, but a personal commitment (to serve).
Why do you pay special attention to social issues?
That is certainly part of faith. Every believer should. To quote Jesus’s words in the holy Bible, ‘Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.’ One of the indicators of a person’s perfection is compassion. Compassion is the source of social concerns. In my appointment letter, Pope Francis also talked about compassion.
Should all religious leaders voice social concerns?
Of course. Because everyone believes that God has created this world and it is good. A paradise. But humans fell into sin. We all must return to paradise. Sins can be social sins, committed in economic or public spheres. These are the concerns.
Is that why you care about the fate of Kendeng farmers?
I know the leader, Mas Gun Retno (a coordinator of a Kendeng community network forum) well. He said they had won the case at the supreme court but the verdict could not be executed. Isn’t that sad? How come such a reality exists under the rule of law? But I’ve never advocated for them, really. It is too much for me. I only support their struggle because I know they are genuine people.
You are also vocal about the Papua issue. What role should the government play?
I think the central government has a limited role. In my opinion, it is the regional government that determines whether Papua will progress or not. The funds are clearly there but the realization that the government or the state has a function is apparently very low.
Some are of the view that Papuans are being oppressed by the government. What is your opinion?
That Papuans are oppressed is a very common narrative, isn’t it? Based on what data? We were once invited by the President (Joko Widodo) for a special discussion on Papua. There is an allegation that the central government plundered Papua’s natural resources. He (Jokowi) provided the data that showed the complete opposite. The government indeed received tax revenues in several trillions of rupiah from Papua but the fund it returned to Papua was fivefold. So, how can anyone call it oppression? I don’t deny injustices happening there but we cannot generalize the situation. We have to be specific.
If the central government has treated Papua so well, why do injustices still exist?
Well, the regional government has the special autonomy authority to manage the fund. Governors and regents are native Papuans. The problem is what the money is for and how it is managed to improve the livelihood of the people. I’ve often gone to the innermost parts of Papua and the last visit was to Agats. The education levels of the people there are still very low. So is the standard of health facilities. Where did it go, the huge amount of funds the region received for so long as a special autonomy region?
Is the condition of the Papuan people still worrying?
It’s true they are poor and suffering. I’ve been travelling to Papua for the past 12 years, virtually every year. I saw the progress, but I also saw that problems also had multiplied. Take the Trans-Papua highway for example. It is great, isn’t it? But the question is ‘Where have the people gone who used to live around the road?’ Who currently owns the lands around or near the highway? Certainly not the Papuan people.
It means the construction of the Trans-Papua road was not the right initiative?
It is good, but advocacy is needed so that the people will not be further marginalized because of the new highway.
ANTARA FOTO/M Risyal Hidayat
Some time ago, the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference (KWI) confirmed that there were cases of alleged sexual harassment within the Catholic Church in Indonesia. What’s the story?
I ,as a KWI chair, never received such reports. Therefore, my answer to reporters who asked me about it has been to ask the source. I don’t understand where it comes from. So, if they represented KWI, which KWI?
(Warta Minggu, published by Tomang Parish, Mother Mary of Carmel Church, Jakarta Archdiocese, on December 8, 2019, reported alleged sexual violence in Catholic churches across Indonesia involving 33 pastors and 23 other predators. A total of 56 victims include 21 seminarians and friars, 20 nuns and 15 laity members. Paulus Christian Siswantoko, the secretary of KWI’s Lay Apostolate Commission, said last December that his commission had received reports from informants who claimed to be victims of sexual violence at a Catholic church. However, Siswantoko has no confirmed data on the exact number of victims.)
Since the information surfaced, has there been any internal investigation?
These are moral cases and if they occurred within the church environment, they will never be published. There are ethics. It is a personal problem one usually confides to religious leaders. If the perpetrator is a priest, then talk to the respective bishops. It is a highly confidential matter. How come they are leaked to the public?
KWI has reportedly set up a special team to investigate this case?
Not at all. But Pope Francis is very strict in this matter. In Europe, the problem is very actual. Recently, Cardinal George Pell of Australia was convicted and sentenced to prison.
How does the Catholic Church respond to cases like these?
In different ways. In Europe and America, they are taken to court. In Europe, the law enforcement authorities can even access the archdiocese’s archives which are usually kept by pastors. In other places, they will become church cases if they become legal cases. They will be heard in court and the church may not protect the members accused in the cases.
How is the role of the local diocese?
If the case is reported to the bishop, for instance, he has the obligation to respond promptly. That’s what the pope demands. But the problem lies in cultures that are so diverse. This was discussed at the 2015 Synod of Bishops held in Rome which I also attended. This type of things is highly common in Europe and US. But it’s very different in Asia and Africa. A European bishop who works in Africa is surprised how things are done in Europe. He said in one of the African countries he represented, such problems are resolved amicably.
There is a rising trend in Europe and US to take abuse cases at the churches straight to the civil law arena.
It’s the same here. Openness is good but we never know what happens in courts here: what they want, how much to be paid, or for what. It’s always confusing here. I hope the problems there will not come here. Leaders of Church must protect their congregation. That is a very serious matter.
What sanctions are given to pastors or priests who are proven guilty of sexual abuse?
For example, in Australia, the court found Cardinal George Pell guilty but there was another higher institution which also issued the same verdict. Only afterwards, the church processed the case and he was dismissed.
Awaiting a final and binding verdict?
Not necessarily. If the case is not tried in a civil court, it is processed in the church via a team. If the accused is proven guilty, he will be released from his duties.
Is that the highest sanction?
Yes, because the church has no prisons. If the case is taken to the legal arena, then, it is processed legally and there are jails. We never had any pastor or bishop sent to prison in the past. Nowadays, we have.
Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo | Place and date of birth: Sedayu, Bantul, Yogyakarta, July 9, 1950 | Education Bachelor of Arts (Philosophy/Theology), Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta PhD in Theological and Biblical Studies, Pontifical Urban University, Rome, Italy |Order: January 26, 1976 by Justinus Darmojuwono | Consecration: August 22, 1997 by Julius Darmaatmadja | Promoted to be cardinal: October 5, 2019 by Pope Francis | Rank: Cardinal-Priest | Previous positions: Archbishop of Semarang (1997-2010), Apostolic Administrator Bandung (2010-2014), Chairman, Indonesian Bishops’ Conference (2012-now), Archbishop of Jakarta (2010-now)