Ryan Dagur, Jakarta – A Catholic priest has found himself in hot water with Papuans seeking independence by speaking out in favor of plans that would keep the restive region under Indonesian rule.
They criticized Father Hendrikus Hada of Agats Diocese for remarks supporting the extension of special autonomy status for Papua and the creation of a new autonomous region there, two hotly contested issues still being debated among locals.
His remarks were delivered at a hearing with members of the House of Representatives in Jakarta last month but were published by local news portal Suara Papua on July 12.
Father Hada claimed he was authorized by his bishop to speak out in support of the extension of autonomy status.
"Special autonomy has an important and very impactful role in the lives of Papuans," he said.
He also said that the Church supported the forming of a new autonomous region – South Papua province. "We support and hope that it will soon be formed for the sake of equity and development," he said.
The priest's comments have drawn fire as special autonomy status, which supposedly guarantees Papuans the right to manage their own region politically, economically and culturally, has met with fierce opposition from those who would prefer a referendum on independence.
In addition to protests, more than 700,000 Papuans have signed a "people's petition" opposing special autonomy status.
Meanwhile, the creation of a new autonomous region is opposed by locals who see it as a ruse to divide Papuans
Papuans have attacked the priest, who hails from Flores in East Nusa Tenggara province, on social media, saying he should stick to spiritual and not political matters.
"The priest should not interfere like this in political matters," said human rights lawyer Frederika Korain. "What he said contradicts the view of many Papuans. On what basis did he involve the Church in these two sensitive issues?"
She said the priest should talk about the aspirations of the Papuan people.
"Has he heard what Papuans have been saying all this time?" said Korain, who once worked for the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Commission of Jayapura Diocese.
"When a priest is involved with the political elite in determining policies that oppress the people, then in fact he is no longer the shepherd but the oppressor," he said.
Hilarius Akyap Mahandin, chairman of the Wambon Koleyombin council in Boven Digoel district, said the priest was not speaking on behalf of Papuans.
"What he said was unfortunate. It doesn't represent our voice," he said.