Cleaning the Church
Churches must be active in protecting children. They must not remain silent if there is information about rapes or other sexual crimes.
THE police must be serious in dealing with the scandal at the St. Herkulanus Parish Church in Pancoran Mas, Depot, West Java, where dozens of children were reportedly raped. The police force’s commitment is now being tested especially since they have the full support of the Church Parish Council chair and the Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops Conference of Indonesia.
Syahril Parlindungan Marbun, 42, the man accused of raping the altar boys, has been arrested and detained by Depok Police. However, he has only been charged with two cases of rape and sexual harassment despite the church discovering that at least 21 children between ages of 11 and 14 had been raped since the year 2000.
If he is found guilty, Syahril must be punished accordingly. For almost two years, he allegedly have abused his position as trainer of altar boys at the St. Herkulanus Parish to prey on children who were studying there. He misused the trust and respect of these children to carry out indecent acts that caused physical and psychological harm to them. This was barbaric because the victims were children that he should have been protecting.
There are suspicions that he was able to continue his crime for so many years because previous complaints about rape were resolved by the church through negotiation outside the legal system. The Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops Conference of Indonesia must investigate these allegations and determine why these sexual crimes were allowed to continue. Pastors suspected to have been involved in hushing up the scandal must also be punished in proportion to their share of the blame.
The increase in the number of cases of sexual violence against children every year is a warning for us to be more serious about addressing this problem. According to the Witness and Victim Protection Agency, there were at least 350 cases last year. This is an increase of 70 percent over the previous year. One way to treat this problem more seriously would be to give the maximum sentences to perpetrators to create a deterrent effect.
The Child Protection Law states that people who abuse children can be jailed for up to 15 years and fined Rp5 billion. If there is more than one victim, this punishment can be increased, particularly if the victims are severely injured, experience psychological disturbances or die. After serving their sentences, the perpetrators can be fitted with electronic detection devices so they do not go near places where there are many children. Maximum sentences could be a severe warning to anybody who is thinking about depraved acts.
The revelations of the child rapes at the St. Herkulanus Church must spur on all sides to improve matters. Religious leaders, not only church officials, must be open about any violations of the law in and around places of worship. Religious leaders must not hesitate to hand cases over to the police and to support the legal process to the end. Criminals must not be allowed to shelter behind the walls of houses of God.
In the future, the prevention of sexual violence against children must involve all stakeholders, from families, schools and religious leaders to members of the public. Education about what constitutes sexual harassment and the ways to prevent it must be expanded, especially since research has shown found that 80 percent of sexual offenders are known to their victims.
Apart from this, no less important is the need to change the notion that complaining about sexual offenses is like admitting to a shameful act. This attitude makes it much harder to uncover cases like that involving the children at St. Herkulanus Church.