A bishop in Indonesia has strongly criticized national officials for failing to protect Christians and other religious groups after a mob of 1,500 Muslims destroyed three churches, an orphanage and a hospital on Feb. 8.
Religious minorities in Indonesia “have been left without any protection from the state,” Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Amboina said in remarks to Vatican-based Fides news agency on Feb. 9.
Bishop Mandagi – who also serves as president of the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue for the Indonesian Bishops Conference – called for “a decisive step” from the government to put an end to the violence and urged local Christians to practice forgiveness as opposed to revenge.
Earlier this week, an estimated 1,500 Indonesian Muslims destroyed three churches before attacking an orphanage and hospital in Central Java on Feb. 8. The mob was protesting a court's decision not to sentence a Christian man to death for defaming Islam.
Antonius Bawengan, 58, received a five-year prison sentence – the maximum penalty allowed by law – under the “blasphemy law” that has been invoked to silence critics of Islam. However, the crowd assembled at his trial believed the sentence was too lenient, and demanded his death. They assaulted a group of police officers that reportedly numbered around 1,000 before moving against the churches.
The crowd first attacked the Catholic Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, in an assault that seriously wounded a missionary priest of the Holy Family congregation. The missionary, identified only as Fr. Saldanha, was beaten by the mob as he attempted to defend the tabernacle containing the Eucharist against desecration.
Local priest Fr. Benny Susetyo, who serves as executive secretary for the bishop conference's Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, said in remarks to Fides that Muslims are not the sole perpetrators of conflict in the area.
He said that Protestant “fundamentalist preachers” have added to a climate of “discontent, disharmony, discomfort, and verbal violence.”
“These are Protestant Christian preachers, often makeshift, from evangelical and pentecostal denominations, who have no respect for other religions,” he said Feb. 9. “Their preaching and their language are typical of sects: ‘Islam is evil,’ ‘convert or go to hell.’ All this results in anger and hatred among the population, which then explodes into anti-Christian violence.”
Fr. Susetyo said this is what he believes happened in the situation of Bawengan who was accused and imprisoned for blasphemy. The priest called Bawengan a Christian who spread material that was offensive to Islam.
“On the other hand,” he noted, “there are Islamic extremist groups, of the Wahhabi ideology, which constitute the other side of the problem. They are both small groups, but when fanatics collide, the whole society and all the faithful pay for it.”
All things considered, Fr. Susetyo added, “the government is absent and does nothing to stop these different extremists, or to protect human rights … which is the basis of peaceful coexistence between religions.”