Parish Priest of St. Herkulanus, Yosep Sirilus Natet: There has to be justice for the victims
In early February, not long after taking the role of head priest at St. Herkulanus Parish in Depok, West Java, Yosep Sirilus Natet was faced with a case of sexual violence against altar boys. At first, there were two victims.
BUT as things developed, the number of victims rose to 21 boys. Natet also faced polarized opinions among his congregation over the sexual abuse allegedly committed by lawyer Syahril Parlindungan Marbun, the parish’s acolyte adviser. “The legal process must proceed,” he told Tempo’s Stefanus Pramono and Mustafa Silalahi on the second floor of the pastoral building on Thursday, June 18.
When did you find out about the sexual abuse?
In (the fasting moth of) Ramadan, parents told me their son was sexually abused. I was angry. I told them that, legally, they have to take responsibility. At the time the parents had no plan to press charges. Eventually they did.
What about the church’s responsibility.
The church teaches and gives justice for the people. The victims must receive justice. If we are wrong, we have to admit so. The Bishop of Bogor (Monsignor Paskalis Bruno Syukur, OFM) also asked us to accompany the victims and their parents. He advised us not to make them feel abandoned by the church.
Did you speak to the suspect?
At that time I invited the acolyte parents to disseminate a child-friendly parish program. The invitation was sent without passing through him. Later, he found out and expressed his anger through the WhatsApp group of the acolyte because there was no coordination. Then he asked to see me on June 4.
Did you ask him about the allegation of sexual crimes?
He asked me himself, “They say I will face charges? Who reported it?”
I told him that he will find out later. He said there was no need for pressing charges; that he felt terrible for the acolyte children. Then there’s the expense for this case, which is not a small amount. He also said that he liked hugging, kissing, and tickling the children. He then asked “is that sexual harassment?” I got the impression that he was trying to hide behind the church as an institution by saying those things.
What did you do after finding out about the sexual abuse?
Clearly, this must be solved by the law and the organization. At the beginning, things were done discreetly. There were investigations of acolytes and former acolytes to track and find other victims. We also consulted with the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, under the Justice and Peace Commission. We also have psychologists assisting us.
Why did the church decide to reveal the case?
This is a disgrace. But it is inevitable that we must reveal it. We want the church to be more open, to be trusted, to be a safe and comfortable place. The process is indeed painful. But we have to face it. We don’t want victims to become sex offenders in the future.
Is it true that the Parish Council had refused to bring matters to the police?
Some members of the church had asked to keep the case a secret, and to settle things out of court. I told them I want my congregation to take peaceful ways, to forgive and repent. But the law must be upheld. As a lawyer, the suspect must know of the logical consequences.
We received information that several years ago his crimes were also discovered, but things were settled out of court.
I do not know. I have heard rumors of it, but I have not found notes about it from the parish priests before me.
Then, why is he still serving as an acolyte adviser?
I do not know. If the rumors are true, then (keeping him as an acolyte adviser) was a huge mistake. It is the same as letting a predator runs lose to prey on children.