The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Tuesday, April 08, 2014


Not a neutral priest

Religious leaders should educate their followers about political issues, but not recommend candidates, according to prominent Catholic priest Benny Susetyo, 45, former executive secretary of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference,
However the social activist left no doubt about his presidential choice when interviewed during a brief visit to his hometown Malang by Duncan Graham.
            It’s a priest’s calling to be concerned with souls, to teach the Gospel.  How do you justify your involvement in politics?
            A priest’s job is also to speak out on issues concerning the people’s welfare, morality and ethics, to be concerned for humanity, peace and justice. That’s the teaching of Catholicism; these are the values of all religions. I’ve studied the contestants’ statements and policies and read the polls. Indonesians are not stupid.  We know Jokowi (Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo) is strong on these important issues.
            Is your impartiality in question?  Your brother (Andreas Eddy Susetyo) is a Partai Demokrasi Indonesia – Perjuangan (PDI-P) Legislative Assembly candidate.  You say you’ve known Jokowi since his days as mayor of Solo and keep in close touch.  Perhaps you should also have spoken to other candidates.
Not necessary. The others are all Orde Baru (New Order – the Soeharto era administration) figures. Their policies and records tell me enough. I agree Jokowi has yet to be tested, but he’s the only candidate concerned with human rights.  He will not ignore Christians if elected. I reject neutrality.
             Are you in danger of putting off Muslim voters by expecting Protestants and Catholics to vote for Jokowi?
I’m not trying to cause divisions and wish religion wasn’t part of politics.  Jesus was a politician because he advocated for the poor and weak against the rulers – but he wasn’t a member of a political party. Many religious people don’t understand politics, so need information, to have issues explained. That’s my role. A priest must also follow his conscience.
            Has that got you into strife?
With a few, though not the Vatican. Pope Francis has spoken out against inequalities caused through bad economic policies.
            Isn’t this all academic?  Non-Muslims are such a small minority with little influence.
Every non-Muslim is still part of our Republic. Everyone has influence, whoever they are, irrespective of their religion.
            You’ve just returned from London and Oxford where you spoke on ‘Pluralism in Peril” in Indonesia. What do you mean?
All the evidence shows intolerance is growing and spreading beyond the original pockets. I’m particularly worried about the conflicts that followed the Arab Spring coming to this country, brought by young radicals who have been fighting there.  
            Why not the other way around, with Indonesia exporting its successful version of democracy?
That won’t happen.  Our culture is completely different.  We lean more towards the US than Arab countries.
Are human rights an important issue in this election?
No.  But they should be.
            What do you expect from the next president?
To stamp out corruption, that’s number one. He should uphold Pancasila (the nation’s five philosophical principles) and strengthen the rule of law. He must stop the abuse of power and care for the poor.  
            Many argue Indonesia needs a strong leader so the president should be a military man.
Like Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former general, but weak?  The Indonesian people don’t need a dictator. We want honest leaders with rational policies, not populist slogans. If you interview me in five years time I hope that religious issues won’t be part of the campaign.
How do you feel about the future of democracy in Indonesia?
Optimistic if the people are rational in their approach to politics, but not if we continue following the culture of the elite.


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