69 priests in the Diocese of Ruteng resigned from their posts June 12 after accusing their bishop, Bishop Hubertus Leteng, of embezzling more than $100,000 of church funds for personal use. Photo courtesy of the Bishops' Conference of Indonesia (kawali.org)

Indonesian priests seek Vatican help in row with bishop over church funds

  • June 20, 2017

RUTENG, Indonesia – A group of priests in Indonesia's Ruteng Diocese appealed to the Vatican to intervene and resolve a dispute with their bishop, whom they accuse of misappropriating more than $100,000 in church funds.

Representatives of the priests, accompanied by a bishops' conference official, met Archbishop Antonio Filipazzi, the outgoing apostolic nuncio in Indonesia June 16 to call on the Vatican to help them achieve their demand that Bishop Hubertus Leteng heed their calls for an overhaul of how the diocese is run.

The move came after dozens of priests in the diocese on Catholic-majority Flores Island quit their posts in protest against their bishop.

Father Alfonsius Segar, one of the priests who met with the nuncio, told ucanews.com that Archbishop Filipazzi has promised to help resolve the dispute.

"He will immediately take this issue up with the Vatican," Father Segar said.

The priest also said the nuncio will send someone to the diocese to appraise the situation.

"We are looking forward to a swift Vatican decision on this," Father Segar said.

A source close to Antonius Agus Sriyono, Indonesia's ambassador at the Vatican, told ucanews.com that the Indonesian government also was raising the Ruteng dispute with the Vatican.

The source, who asked not to be identified because he was unauthorized to speak, said the ambassador is trying to collect evidence related to allegations against Bishop Leteng and would summon witnesses to the Vatican if necessary.

On June 12, 69 diocesan priests submitted letters of resignation, quitting their posts as episcopal vicars and parish priests and demanding that Bishop Leteng change how the diocese is run.

Last year, Bishop Leteng was accused of secretly borrowing $94,000 from the Indonesian bishops' conference in Jakarta and $30,000 from the diocese and failing to provide an accountability report.

In a meeting, he told priests the money was used to finance the education of a youth from a poor family who was studying to be a pilot in the United States.

When the priests asked for details, the bishop told them that it was none of their business, the source said.

However, the priests suspect the money went to a woman with whom, they alleged, the bishop was having an affair. The allegation surfaced in 2014 after a priest who chose to leave the priesthood went public with the charge.

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