We Are Always Critical of the Government
Chair of the IndonesiaN Bishops Conference and Archbishop of Jakarta, Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo
AS Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo joined the International Human Rights Day celebration at the National Commission on Human Rights’ (Komnas HAM) office on December 10, 147 pastors across Papua issued a statement declaring their stance on the issues that beset the Land of the Bird of Paradise. At a press conference held at the Church of Christ the Light, Waena, Jayapura, Alberto John Bunay representing the pastors read out 10 moral appeals, one of which was specifically addressed to the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) chaired by Suharyo.
They questioned the silence of the organization that governs the Catholic churches in the country over the repeated violence in Papua. They noted a series of violent incidents including the shooting of Yeremia Zanambani, Presbytery Chairman of the Hitadipa Indonesian Tabernacle Church (GKII) in Intan Jaya, as well as Agustinus Duwitau and Rufinus Tigau, Catholic catechists in Papua, in September and October. “Actually, (the Catholic Church) will never keep quiet if there’s a murder,” said Suharyo, 70, said during an interview with Tempo on December 15, at the Jakarta Archdiocese.
The Jakarta’s Archbishop said that instead of making public statements, the Catholic Church has chosen to give input to the government. Suharyo, for instance, accompanied two bishops from Papua to a meeting with Political, Legal and Security Affairs Coordinating Minister Mahfud Md. The bishops also met with Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto and conveyed their views regarding Papua’s problems. “These are alternatives to making statements and not knowing whom to address these statements to,” he reasoned.
Speaking to Tempo reporters Sapto Yunus and Mahardika Satria Hadi, Suharyo explained about KWI’s stance on the Papua issues, the church’s relation with the government and the position of Indonesian Catholics’ as citizens. The bishop who was installed as Cardinal on October 5, 2019 also touched upon sexual abuse cases that continue to plague the Catholic Church.
As many as 147 pastors in Papua have raised concerns and declared their stance over violence that continues to break out in Papua. What is your response to their voice?
It would be a more concrete stance if it was announced via the bishops. None of the bishops in Papua signed the statement. Only one, Pastor Marthen Kuayo, an acting bishop of the Timika Diocese, was listed at the end of the signatories. I have to acknowledge honestly that perhaps there is difference of opinion between the bishops in Papua and our friends on the ground about how to convey a message or the need to have patience in conveying a message. We don’t always have to announce our stance through media statements.
What other ways has KWI tried?
At every annual KWI conference where all the bishops from all over Indonesia including Papua are present, we always ask them about the conditions in their regions.
Are Papua’s problems discussed during the annual KWI conference?
We don’t have a conference this year; the last was in November last year. Personally, whenever there are issues in Papua, I always ask the bishops there whether the news is accurate or what the reality there is like.
And what are their responses?
The new Archbishop of Merauke, Monsignor Petrus Canisius Mandagi, for example, said the KWI didn’t need to react. The bishops in Papua understand Papua far better than us. That’s why I didn’t sign the statement. But we looked for reasonable alternatives.
About a month ago, with the assistance of our friends at the Komnas HAM, two bishops from Papua met with TNI Commander Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto at the military headquarters in Cilangkap. Actually, all the five bishops in Papua were invited but perhaps because it was on short notice, only Aloysius Murwito, the Bishop of Agats, and the Archbishop of Merauke could make it. Then in the same evening, I accompanied them to meet Pak Mahfud Md.
What was discussed in the meetings?
One of their requests was for the military to pull all the troops out of Papua. But it’s not possible to withdraw them in a week, right? Now the actual issue at hand is the murder of an unarmed civilian by security apparatus. Yet there are still debates about who the shooters were and so on. It shows how complex the problems in Papua are.
What was Mahfud Md.’s reaction?
Pak Mahfud gave a standard response that the military’s presence signified the government’s presence. But the question is in what spirit or in what fundamental belief the military is present there. For example, our final discussion was about the type of soldiers sent there and how they are prepared before their posts as they are shuffled frequently. Young people normally are not familiar, not only with the conditions in Papua, but also with the characters of the Papuan people, their way of thinking, culture, etc. Once accustomed to these, they are transferred again. Is there any psychological test for the soldiers who will be posted in Papua so they can cope with the specific situations in Papua well? All that we discussed were concepts that cannot be implemented right away, you see.
Why didn’t the bishops there respond fast to the 147 pastors?
I suspect there are complex issues so when they suddenly make a statement, instead of clearing the air, it made it even more complicated.
Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo (right) and President Joko Widodo at the 20th Indonesian Catholic Women’s Congress in Jakarta, October 2018. presidential staff office doc.
Did they inform you about what really was happening there?
Never. I think this declaration is a follow-up of the similar statement our native Papuan friends issued a few months before.
(As many as 57 native Papuan priests scattered across five Dioces issued a joint statement calling for an end to racism towards the Papuan people. Inspired Pope Francis’s appeal in response to rising racism in the United States, the priests issued the statement in Jayapura on June 8.)
One of the points in their statement questioned the KWI for never discussing the Papuan conflict holistically, seriously and thoroughly in its annual meetings. Is it true?
It is indeed true but what do they mean by thoroughly? It’s not clear. The KWI doesn’t have the ability (to handle) Papua’s problems therefore we can’t possibly talk about them thoroughly and holistically. Papua’s problems are extremely complex. Political, cultural, historical, human rights, business interest problems are all intertwined and knotty. The KWI doesn’t have the capacity to talk about them extensively because what the KWI governs is the realm of morality.
One of the incidents that drew public attention was the shooting of Pastor Yeremia Zanambani in Intan Jaya allegedly by members of the TNI. There are also other cases of violence against Catholic catechists. How did the KWI respond to these cases?
A fact-finding team has already been set up for the Pastor Yeremia case. As regards the catechists case, the diocesan administrator of the Timika Diocese Pastor Marthen Kuayo had clearly stated in a written statement requested by me and given to me that the case had nothing to do with the OPM (Papua Liberation Movement). He was an employee of the diocese.
What is happening in Papua cannot be separated from the central government’s policies. Is the approach taken by President Joko Widodo’s government the right approach?
The security approach is clearly unsuccessful up till now. So is the development approach. I’ve been to Papua several times. One of the featured infrastructure developments is the Trans Papua highway. There is still a lingering question of who actually are enjoying it. Then there are demographic problems as a result of transmigration policies as well as the question about the government system there. Is the special autonomy status that gives native Papuans the privilege to lead the government really beneficial to the Papuan people? All that needs to be evaluated.
Who should do the evaluation?
I believe the home affairs minister or Pak Mahfud Md. knows very well how the Papuan administration works.
Has the KWI ever given any input to the central government about Papua?
Pak Jokowi invited the KWI several times to elicit input for Papua. On one occasion, I said, ‘Mr. President, if you want to know about the condition in Papua, please contact my friend Jayapura Archbishop Leo Laba Lajar.’ Then when he went to Papua, he had Bishop Leo picked up and brought to Sorong on a light plane to hear his opinions. Bishop Leo has been there for over 25 years and I’m sure he knows a lot about Papua. He also asked the central government to help the local government do their job. That’s what the Jayapura Bishop recounted to me.
Did he also inform the President about human rights violations in Papua?
We conveyed it to Pak Mahfud. Papua is a vast region. From what I observed, it is a perpetually ‘boisterous’ region up the mountains. Meanwhile, you almost never heard of conflicts in Southern Papuan regions such as Merauke or Agats. But the news of continued troubles on the mountains reach them and that’s worrying because something like murder would surely spur solidarity among them. They would increasingly feel that they are being treated unjustly. How will they embrace us when they feel like that?
What should the government do to end the conflict in Papua?
At the event to commemorate the International Human Rights Day, the Komnas HAM repeatedly promoted peaceful dialog. The 147 pastors of Papua also feel the need for dialog. So does the government, I heard.
The Catholic Church has been criticized for its apparent inclination to support and not being critical enough of the government in a lot of matters. What is your defense?
Actually, the KWI always voices its criticism (towards the government) in each Pastoral Note which is not published as the Catholic Church in Indonesia is a small community. But after each annual conference, we give notes to the government, for example about the general elections, ecology, militarism, corruption, etc. It’s just that we don’t speak loudly.
What stance does the Catholic Church take towards the government?
According to the terms in the church’ teachings, the church has a prophetic role. Since the times of the Persian, Babylonian, Egyptian empires, as told in the Holy Bible, governments were susceptible to power abuse. Prophets appeared when authorities failed to play the roles they were supposed to play. The one thing that they come under fire for has always been the same from then until now: injustice and mistreatment of citizens.
The Bible teaches Christians to be loyal to the government. Should that loyalty be absolute?
No, it’s not. Philippines is an example when its government went too far. There is tension between the prelates and President (Rodrigo) Duterte especially over the shootings of civilians. So, the church doesn’t always have to bow to the government. Liberation theology emerged in Latin America in response to dictatorships.
How do you see the government of Indonesia?
We don’t have to reach that point because the government here was democratically elected with all the different nuances (of democracy). We can still voice our criticism via many ways.
The coming of Islam Defenders Front leader Muhammad Rizieq Shihab back to Indonesia has caused public uproar. Did the church advise the faithful how to respond to the issue?
The church for sure doesn’t want to involve itself in these issues. It is the state’s matter and the state has rules and laws in spite of the recent shooting of six FPI members. I always urge the congregation not to exacerbate the already mounting problems the government and the country are facing. As citizens, small or big, let us muster strength to do good.
In his article titled Kita dan HRS (We and HRS) in the Hidup magazine, Father Franz Magnis-Suseno said Catholics must not get carried away by the Rizieq Shihab controversy. They must continue to build good relations with Muslims although he acknowledged there were around 20 to 30 cases of religious intolerance against Catholics each year. Does his statement represent the church’ stance?
Father Magnis is a man of undoubted intellect and integrity. He’s held on to the principle that whoever we are, we are in a country with the highest Muslim population in the world. We can’t afford not to foster good relations with everyone, particularly the Muslim community. His point I suppose is that in spite of everything, we have a message from our founding fathers that we should not waste energy on fighting. He for sure did not mean to disregard those killed by terrorists, for example.
Has the Catholic Church entirely left it to the state to resolve the problems?
What can the church do? We can only pray. I mean the church can’t get itself involved in these problems.
Pope Francis with his progressive mind has openly expressed his support for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgenders. How does the Catholic Church in Indonesia respond to the Pope’s message given the continued discrimination faced by LGBT people?
What Pope meant to say is that all human beings, whatever they are—be it people with special needs, bright or dumb, or with unusual tendencies—are born equal in dignity. That’s the essence. Whether they are disabled or LGBTs, their civil rights, for example to receive ID cards, to go to school, etc., must be guaranteed. But the church only recognizes marriage between males and females with all the conditions a marriage entails.
Sexual abuses continue within church walls. The latest case involved the St. Herkulanus Church in Depok, West Java. What has the Catholic Church done to ensure that it won’t happen again?
The church’ stance is clear: zero tolerance especially when victims are children and people with special needs. Any member of the clergy, bishops, monks, cardinals who commit sexual crimes cannot be tolerated. Pope Francis has taken a stern stance since 2015. If perpetrators are clergy, there is nothing to discuss because none of the ‘church people’ is above the law. But the perpetrator in the Depok case is neither a priest nor a bishop. That’s a different story.
How is it different?
That is an ordinary criminal case which should be handled according to the law. There are child protection and anti-pornography laws and so on. A priest as a clergy has the duty and responsibility to shepherd and lead the congregation. How vile he is to act like a predator. As the pope put it, they who should protect instead devour those in their care.
CARDINAL IGNATIUS SUHARYO HARDJOATMODJO | Place and Date of Birth: Sedayu, Bantul, Yogyakarta, July 9, 1950 | Education: Bachelor of Philosophy/Theology at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta; Doctor of Biblical Theology at the Pontifical Urban University, Rome, Italy | Ordination: January 26, 1976 by Justinus Darmojuwono | Consecration: August 22, 1997 by Julius Darmaatmadja | Appointed Cardinal: October 5, 2019 by Pope Francis | Rank: Cardinal-Priest | Previous Positions: Archbishop of Semarang (1997-2010), Apostolic Administrator of Bandung (2010-2014), Chair, Indonesian Bishops Conference (2012-present), Archbishop of Jakarta (2010-present)