Fabianus Tibo, 60, Dominggus da Silva, 39, and Marinus Riwu, 48, were sentenced to death after they were convicted in 2001 of murdering 200 local Muslims in 2000. Relatives claim the men were wrongly convicted of the crime.
The executions were scheduled for Aug. 12, but the government issued a stay just hours earlier, postponing the execution until after Aug. 17.
General Sutanto, the national police chief who announced the stay, said the delay was due to letters by Pope Benedict XVI, the Bishops' Conference of Indonesia, and interfaith leaders.
Fr. Jimmy Tumbelaka of St. Theresia Church told UCA News that he sees God's intervention in the delay.
"It is a miracle that the government wants to open their hearts," he reportedly said. The day before the scheduled execution, he and two other priests had visited the prisoners to celebrate Mass and offer the sacrament of reconciliation.
The bishops’ conference had sent a letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, asking him to stay all executions and to abolish the death sentence.
"The death sentence will end someone's life, and it will never return even though we will have a different truth in the future,” the bishops wrote. “Moreover, the Republic of Indonesia has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that approves and upholds the right to life of everyone."
As a result, the president should stay all executions "and abolish the death sentence in Indonesia for ever," the bishops added. The letter was signed by Jesuit Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja of Jakarta and Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo of Semarang.
Fr. Serafin Dany Sanusi, executive secretary of the bishops’ Commission for Justice and Peace, told UCA News he welcomes the government decision.
The Catholic Church of Indonesia, he added, has decided to consistently reject the death sentence in the future "because it violates human right to life."
The intervention of Catholic Church leaders, including the Pope himself, led the Indonesian government to issue a stay of execution for three Catholic men. However, Catholic leaders and the prisoners’ relatives are now urging authorities to renew investigations into the case and to free the men.