By UCA News
(UCA News) — A Catholic archdiocese in Indonesia has denied claims that its priests have lent their support to presidential candidate Anies Rasyid Baswedan, who is accused of committing religious and racial bias associated with identity politics.
Capuchin Father Yosafat Ivo Sinaga, chairman of the Lay Apostolic Commission of Medan archdiocese in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province said the claims of support were “untrue” and stressed that the Catholic Church never allows priests to engage in mainstream politics.
His Nov 3 statement was in response to a YouTube video called: “70 Pastors Support Anies.”
In Indonesia, the term “pastor” is applied to a Catholic priest.
The video draws the title from claims by John Koto, the head of a Anies support group in Medan, who said at an event on Oct 29 that 70 priests in, North Sumatra have declared their support for Anies.
Koto also stated that several priests in Medan made videos on YouTube stating that Anies was “the hope of the nation that can unite Indonesia which has recently begun to be fragmented.”
Father Sinaga called on the public to be critical of information like those in the video that “does not convey true news.”
“We should not be too quick to believe, let alone forward news that does not yet know the truth. We also shouldn’t be easily provoked by issues that divide our brotherhood,” he said.
Referring to the Code of Canon Law 287, he said clergy is not allowed to engage in mainstream politics.
“The Catholic Church always maintains multi-ethnic, tribal, and religious unity. For this reason, the Catholic Church has never been based on one axis, whether it be a particular party or figure,” he said.
He also appealed to all parties to “carry out elegant politics and correct political ethics and not justify any means for the sake of political interest.”
The diocese’s statement has gone viral on social media, sparking criticism from Anies’ supporters.
Holy Cross Father Postinus Gulo from Bandung diocese in West Java, an active Twitter user, shared the archdiocese’s statement, saying he hoped that “the team of a certain presidential candidate would stop spreading lies.”
“Let’s have healthy politics. Don’t do dirty politics by spreading lies,” he said.
Anies is one of the leading contenders for the 2024 presidential election. His potential rivals are Ganjar Pranowo, governor of Central Java province from the ruling Indonesian Party of Struggle, and Prabowo Subianto, the defense minister who was twice defeated by incumbent President Joko Widodo.
The National Democratic Party — one of the government’s coalition partners — announced on Oct 3 Anies as their presidential candidate.
He is still often associated with identity politics related to his victory in the 2018 Jakarta gubernatorial election with strong support from hardline Islamists who openly backed him, defeating his rival Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent who was accused of and jailed for blasphemy.
This is not the first time that claims of Church people’s support for Anies have spread on the internet.
Last month, a video also circulated on YouTube claiming support from the Catholic bishop in Jakarta.
The video features photos of Anies with Jakarta Archbishop Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo when they met in September.
The video prompted Jakarta archdiocese to publish a clarification that the meeting was a courtesy call and did not discuss Anies’ candidacy or political issues.
Political observer Lucius Karus said Anies’ supporters “are trying to promote an image that he is not only embracing hardline Islamic groups like he once did.”
“He wants to show that he cares about all groups,” he told UCA News.
He said such tactics are actually not only targeting Christians who are indeed a minority, “but also moderate Islamic groups who also don’t like identity politics tactics.”
Karus said instead of getting sympathy, such tactics only tarnish Anies’ image further.
Hermawi Taslim, deputy general secretary of the National Democratic Party, said they do not support the spread of hoaxes like those carried out by Anies supporters in Medan.
It is necessary to investigate the mastermind behind it “so that people do not question and suspect each other or accuse each other,” Taslim added.