Margareth S. Aritonang and Evi Mariani, Jakarta/Depok/Bogor – A proverb says that it takes a village to raise a child but oftentimes, it takes only a person to ruin a child's life and in Depok, West Java, a whole community of powerful adults seems to have abandoned children who were allegedly molested in a locally run Catholic orphanage.
Far away from their parents, with no one to look after them except for the head of the orphanage, known as Brother Angelo Ngalngola, the alleged molester himself, the children cried out for help. A collaborative team between The Jakarta Post and Tirto.id has uncovered facts that confirm that both the state and the Catholic Church heard the boys' cries but washed their hands of them, allowing the suspect to walk free from police detention to celebrate Christmas, and a few months later set up a new orphanage and live among vulnerable boys again.
In September last year, Brother Angelo, the head of the Kencana Bejana Rohani orphanage, was arrested by Depok Police for the alleged sexual abuse of several boys. The police released him in December after they failed to complete the dossiers for the prosecutors' office to bring the case to court. As of August, Angelo was still the head of a new orphanage, albeit having changed his name to Brother Geovanny Ngalngola and was living among more than 20 children under his care.
The state-sponsored National Child Protection Commission (KPAI) and the Catholic Church initially helped the abused children in September last year but later they abandoned the boys during the police investigation. The boys told the collaborative investigation team that they did not receive any legal assistance or psychological counseling from the state or the Catholic Church after Angelo was arrested.
Terror of the 'night bat'
Lukas Lucky Ngalngola, or Brother Angelo as he styled himself, from the Blessed Sacrament Missionaries of Charity (BSMC) congregation, based in the Philippines, has been accused of sneaking into the boys' room at night dressed in all-black attire and molesting several of them. The victims who spoke to Tirto.id on Aug. 12 and Aug. 22 this year, alleged that Angelo would kiss them and engage in oral sex. Some boys were asleep and woke to find themselves naked, others were half-awake, some were not molested but saw him entering in the dark, approach a sleeping friend and heard the sound of him molesting the boy. He became known to the boys as the kelelawar malam (night bat).
The state got wind of the case when KPAI commissioner Susianah Affandy received a report about the alleged sexual abuse from the principal of the school that some of the boys attended. Instead of reporting the allegation to the Depok Police herself or sending someone from the KPAI to file it, she left it to an ordinary citizen without any legal power, Farid Ari Fandi, to make the report on Sept. 13 last year.
"I felt a strong urge to accompany and help the children because I saw myself in them. I was also raised in orphanages. I grew up in different orphanages, struggling to survive," Farid told the Post in a recent interview.
Too scared to report
Farid said at that time, the children were too scared to make a statement because, as one of the victims said, their lives were in Angelo's hands. Far away from their parents, they did not want to create a problem with their sole provider in Depok. Most of the children are not actually orphans but rather boys from poor families in North Sumatra, Maluku and East Nusa Tenggara.
"I wanted to be with them and convinced them to speak up because no one else would do that. Also, I felt that it was a calling for me. Mbak Susianah [from the KPAI] also supported and pushed me to file a report to the police," Farid said.
Farid's position at the time was in fact more akin to that of a concerned bystander. The KPAI first asked for his help not to report the alleged abuse but to find suitable places for the 68 orphanage residents under Angelo's care because they had no place to go. Farid was the deputy head of the National Orphanage Forum. Other people were contacted by the KPAI as well: activists from the Indonesian Child Protection Agency (LPAI) headed by child protection activist icon Seto Mulyadi, Depok Social Affairs Agency and a Catholic nun who has experience in running an orphanage.
After attending one meeting with the Depok Police, Susianah apparently left Farid to deal with the investigation alone. Asked for confirmation, Susianah told the reporting team to call the KPAI head, Susanto, who declined to talk to the Post because he claimed to be too busy. The team contacted KPAI commissioner Putu Elvina but she refused to delve into the case in September and went on to explain that the KPAI had contacted the police again and would pursue the investigation.
The Depok Police investigation in September appeared to set itself up for failure from the beginning. Even though Angelo made a documented confession that he had molested some of the boys, the police said they could not bring Angelo to court. The police said the prosecutor's office wanted them to add more statements from the victims and witnesses but they could not find the three boys who had made the original police reports.
Due to his lack of formal standing in the case, Farid did not have constant information about the boys' whereabouts. Other than Farid, the children had no legal representative nor did they get any psychological counselling after their trauma. The last time that Farid met the three boys who were ready to speak up was at the police office when they filed official statements and were about to undergo a physical examination. But the police only examined one of the three because they were then picked up by someone. The police did not elaborate as to who it was that picked the boys up.
The head of the Depok Police's criminal investigation department Wadi Sabani claimed that they received information that the three children had all gone back to their hometown in North Sumatra so they could not complete the dossiers as requested by the prosecutors. Other sources said the boys were actually being moved by the Catholic Church to an orphanage in Puncak in Bogor, West Java, and another one in Central Jakarta.
Wadi recalled that even before the three boys were picked up and later scattered unable to be contacted again, they had retracted their reports against Angelo, citing a "debt of gratitude to Angelo" as the reason.
"The suspect [Angelo] financially supported them from the first day they arrived here [in Depok]. They were aware that no one would take care of them and others at the orphanage after we arrested [Angelo]. They knew that no one would pay the rent or their school fees. Therefore, each of them eventually made a statement that they had forgiven [Angelo] because they owed him a debt of gratitude," Wadi said.
Farid said to his knowledge, even though Angelo was in detention, he was still a financial supporter of the children while they were under the care of Angelo's acquaintance, Darius Rebong.
The role of Bogor Diocese
After Angelo was arrested and detained on Sept. 14, the Bogor diocese and the parish churches near the Kencana Bejana Rohani orphanage took care of the rest of the children for about two weeks after his detention. But the diocese did not inform Farid and the police about the children's whereabouts, thus stymieing the police investigation, and when Farid and his wife, child protection activist Ilma Sovri Yanti Ilyas, called an official from the diocese's legal division, both were dismissed as having no legal standing in the case. "Who are you? From what institution? We only want to deal with the LPAI," the official said as quoted by Ilma, referring to Seto's institution.
The Bogor diocese confirmed that it had moved all the children from the Kencana Bejana Rohani orphanage to different orphanages under the diocese's supervision following Angelo's arrest. The Bishop of Bogor, Paskalis Bruno Syukur, referred to the decision to take over and move the children as a "humanitarian gesture", implying that it was not really the church's responsibility. The decision was made after the diocese received reports from church members about the children's miserable conditions after being abandoned by their sole guardian, Angelo.
Speaking to two journalists from the Post and Tirto.id recently at the Bogor diocese meeting room, Bishop Paskalis said his office did not know anything about Farid, having heard about the case from the KPAI. Paskalis' explanation was iterated several times by the eight lawyers and consultants from the diocese's legal team, as well as four other priests, who accompanied Paskalis during the interview.
A member of the legal team, Agus Setya Purwoko, said the diocese was informed that the KPAI was the party that filed the report against Angelo to the police. "We have never heard of the name Farid until today," he said. Later during the interview Paskalis and his team said they did not want to concern themselves with the legal process against Angelo saying, "that's their [Farid and the KPAI's] business".
Diocese washes its hands of Angelo
The diocese has insisted that the matter is not its problem because it believes that Angelo was not a real Catholic brother given that his congregation, the BSMC, is not an officially recognized order.
In a letter dated Sept. 19, five days after Angelo was detained, the diocese wrote a letter to Catholics in their jurisdiction. Signed and stamped, by among others Bishop Paskalis, the letter said that since April 2019, the diocese had asked Angelo to stop referring to himself as bruder (brother) and to stop wearing the attire of a brother in a Catholic order. "But he broke his promises," the letter said. "Because of that, all his actions and the consequences are his personal responsibility to be answered for by him according to the laws of the State and of the Church," the letter said.
However, when asked further if the diocese formally made clear the status of Angelo to members of the parish to stop him from misusing his assumed priestly identity to collect money to support his orphanage, Father Yohannes Driyanto, one of the priests who sat with Paskalis, said that it was unnecessary as it was "a matter of internal business".
"We cannot prohibit people who have good intentions from helping. So, we wouldn't go out there and announce 'Hey Catholics, don't support him [Angelo]'. But we would inform those who came to seek information before making any donation. We would say please go ahead to help but do know that he [Angelo] is not a [Catholic] brother," Driyanto said.
The diocese also did not explain what happened in April last year that led the diocese to denounce the BSMC. It also said that a picture of Bishop Paskalis posing with Angelo and children from the orphanage, published in March last year on the website version of the most renowned Catholic publication in the country, Hidup magazine, was not really a sign of approval of the orphanage. "As a bishop I can't reject any requests to take a photo with me. It's the same when Angelo asked to take a photograph with me in it," Paskalis said.
Angelo told Hidup that the bishop let him open the orphanage on May 18, 2015 for a three-month probationary period. According to the orphanage's legal document the Post obtained from the Law and Human Rights Ministry, Lukas Lucky Ngalngola opened the Kencana Bejana Rohani in December 2015.
Bishop Paskalis denied Angelo's claim, saying that he only permitted him to teach English and not to open an orphanage.
On Dec. 17, 2019, approaching the end of the three-month period when the police can detain someone before the case must go to court, the dossiers had yet to be accepted by the prosecutor's office, the police called Farid and asked him to withdraw his report.
Farid said before he made the difficult decision he was constantly called by the police, which he referred to as "horrifying and intimidating". Farid could not hold back his tears when he told the Post how he felt abandoned by all relevant institutions, including the KPAI, which at first encouraged him to go through the legal process.
"The police called me every single day for a month. I fully understood that that was the way they worked. I tried to discuss the matter with Mbak Susianah [from the KPAI], but to no avail. I was even accused of taking bribes from the police [to drop the case]," Farid said, his voice breaking.
To help him with the police case, he created a WhatsApp group comprising representatives from state institutions in charge of child protection issues including the KPAI, the Social Affairs Ministry and the Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry, in addition to a number of other non-state child protection agencies as well as activists, to maintain communications and to obtain support. But none of them backed him when dealing with the police investigation, despite having been informed about the progress of the case.
"I was so exhausted. In the end, I didn't respond to the police calls anymore. I just went to the police and withdrew my report. I had informed the state. I provided all information about what was going on to the relevant ministries but they abandoned me," he said. "I cried when I signed the papers, thinking about those children."
The fate of the children
After spending two weeks in two separate Catholic orphanages, a cook in the old orphanage, Sinta, told Bogor Diocese that the children needed to continue their studies in their schools in Depok. Some of the children then returned to the orphanage where they are now looked after by Darius Rebong, Angelo's acquaintance.
Darius said that Agus from the Bogor Diocese legal division told Sinta to look for a place to rent to accommodate the children. Sinta found that Darius had spare space in his house so the diocese paid Darius Rp 50 million (US$3,399) to rent his place for the children for four months. Later in November, Darius asked the Bogor Diocese to hand over the children fully to him and he later set up a foundation for the orphanage.
Bogor Diocese said it let Darius take over the children and start the new orphanage because Darius said he "had an agreement with Angelo" that the children would be under his care. Darius confirmed that he and Angelo had an agreement, showing Tirto.id and the Post a letter, handwritten by Angelo, stating that from Oct. 14 Angelo would no longer be the guardian of the children and devolving the responsibility to Darius.
There are now 44 children in Darius' orphanage and in early August Darius broadcast a message to Catholics in Depok to help the children because they did not have enough money to feed the children and to pay for their education.
Bishop Paskalis, whom Darius met in person to express his intentions, said that he could do nothing other than to take the children off his hands after failing to convince Darius to work with the church in the care of the children.
"We offered to take care of the children together but he insisted on going solo. Thus, we absolved ourselves of the matter, including in regard to the nature of their [Darius and Angelo's] relationship. Later on, we found out that he [Darius] had set up his own foundation," Paskalis said. The bishop claimed the diocese had planned to provide counseling and other essential services for the children but after Darius took the children, they dropped that plan.
Darius and the five interviewed victims confirm that they never received any counseling services from the church. "I don't understand why the Bogor diocese doesn't want to give counseling to help the children. Maybe they are helping them through their prayers," he said.