Roman Catholicism in Indonesia

Roman Catholicism in Indonesia

Catholicism in Indonesia refers to Roman Catholicism in Indonesia, where it is one of the six approved religions, the other being Islam, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. According official figures, Catholics make up 3.05 percent of the population in 2000. This would yield the number of the Catholics to about 6,5 millions.

The Church is organised into 10 archdioceses and 27 dioceses. [ [ Catholic Dioceses in Indonesia ] ] It is led by Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja, S.J. There are several active religious orders, including the Jesuits and the SVD.

The history of Catholicism in Indonesia began with the arrival of the Portuguese in search of the Spice Islands in the 16th century.


In the 16th century the Portuguese sailed east to Asia. They captured Malacca in 1511. They came for the spices, but Catholic missionaries soon arrived in the region, most notably Francis Xavier who worked in Ambon, Ternate and Morotai (Halmahera) in 1546 – 1547. Dominican missionaries also made many converts in Solor. With the expulsion of Portugal from Ternate in 1574, many Catholics in the northern Moluccas were killed or converted to Islam. Ambon was conquered and occupied by the Dutch East India Company in 1605. Subsequently the Catholics were forced to convert to Protestantism. The same happened in Manado and the islands of Sangihe and Talaud. In 1613 Solor also fell to the Dutch, and Catholic mission activity was reduced in Flores and Timor, which were still under Portuguese administration.Robert Cribb, "Historical Atlas of Indonesia" (2000:48)]

It wasn't until 1808, under H.W. Daendels as Governor General, that Catholics were permitted freedom of worship in the Netherlands Indies, though this measure was mainly intended for European Catholics. Daendels ruled under Napoleonic France. This was consolidated by Thomas Raffles.

From 1835 the Catholic Church was affiliated with the colonial state: clergy received a salary from the colonial government which in turn had the right to reject church appointments. In 1846, clashes over policy led the Dutch authorities to expel all but one of the Catholic priests in the colony. In 1848 there were Catholic churches in only four centers in the colony.

Active mission work did not begin until the second half of the 19th century and was concentrated in a few areas. Larantuka in the island of Flores was a particularly important mission field under the Jesuits, because the freedom of the Catholic Church was guaranteed there under an 1859 treaty with Portugal which settled conflicting territorial claims in the region. Bengkulu, Bangka, West Borneo, and the islands south of New Guinea were also important. In other regions such as the interior North Sumatra, Catholic mission work was banned. In 1898, a mission program also began in Muntilan, though the first ethnic Javanese priest was not installed until 1926.

After Indonesian independence the Church grew steadily although the Dutch and other Europeans were expelled. Then the Roman Catholicism as well as other religions grew phenomenally after the so-called abortive communist coup attempt in 1965.

Portuguese era

Portuguese explorers arrived in the Maluku Islands in 1534, with the goals of converting the natives to Roman Catholicism and to obtain valuable spices endemic to the region. The Spainard Francis Xavier, a co-founder of the Jesuit Order, worked in the islands from 1546 to 1547, and baptised several thousand locals of the islands of Ambon, Ternate and Morotai (or Moro), laying the foundations for a permanent mission there. Following his depature from Maluku, others carried on his work and by the 1560s there were 10,000 Catholics in the area, mostly on Ambon, and by the 1590s there were 50,000 to 60,000. Portuguese Dominican priests also had some success in missionary activities on Solor where by the 1590s the Portuguese and local Catholic population is thought to have numbered 25,000.cite book
last =Ricklefs | first =M.C. | authorlink = | coauthors = | title =A History of Modern Indonesia Since c.1300, 2nd Edition | publisher =MacMillan | date =1993 | location =London | pages =p.25 | url = | doi = | id = ISBN 0-333-57689-6

The VOC era

Cornelis de Houtman was the first Dutchman who sailed east to modern day Indonesia in 1595. Although his expedition could be considered a commercial failure, it showed the Dutch they were able to sail east in search for the spices. In 1602 the VOC or the Dutch East India Company was created. Subsequently Ambon was conquered and occupied by the VOC in 1605. As a result, the Catholics were forced to convert to Protestantism. The same happened in Manado and the islands of Sangihe and Talaud. In 1613 Solor also fell to the Dutch, and Catholic mission activity was reduced in Flores and Timor, which were still under Portuguese administration.

The Catholic priests were replaced with Protestant priests from The Netherlands. Many Christians at the time converted to Protestantism. For some time, Catholic priests were threatened with capital punishment if found to be residing in VOC territory. In 1624, Father Egidius d'Abreu (SJ), was executed in Batavia during the administration of Governor General Jan Pieterszoon Coen for celebrating Mass in prison.

Father Alexander de Rhodes, a French Jesuit who invented the Vietnamese westernized alphabet system, was forced to watch his cross and Mass accessories burned underneath where two convicted thieves were just hung to their deaths. De Rhodes was then expelled from VOC territories in 1646. [id]

Joanes Kaspar Kratz, an Austrian, was forced to leave Batavia due to difficulties with the administrators due to the help he gave to Catholic priests who were in transit in Batavia. He was moved to Macau, joined the Jesuit Order, and died as a martyr in Vietnam in 1737. [id]

At the end of the 18th century Western Europe saw intense warfare between France and Great Britain and their respective allies. The sympathies of the people of the Netherlands were divided, and the Netherlands lost its independence. In 1806 Louis Bonaparte assigned his brother Louis Napoleon, a Catholic, to the throne of the Netherlands. In 1799 the VOC went bankrupt and was dissolved.

The East Indies era

The change of politic in The Netherlands, mainly because of the accession of Louis Bonaparte (also known as "Koning Lodewijk Bonaparte" in Dutch), a fervent Catholic, brought a positive effect. Religious freedom was recognised by the government. On May 8, 1807, the leader of Catholic Church in Rome was given permission from King Louis to establish an Apostolic Prefecture of East Indies in Batavia.

On April 4, 1808, two Dutch priests arrived in Batavia. They were Pastor Jacobus Nelissen PR and Pastor Lambertus Prisen PR. Nrlissen became the first Apostolic Prefect, when the Apostolic Prefecture of Batavia was created in 1826.

Governor General Daendels (1808-1811), replaced VOC with the government of Dutch East Indies. Religious freedom was then practised, although Catholicism was still difficult.

The Van Lith era

Catholicism in this area began when Frans van Lith, a priest from The Netherlands came to Muntilan, Central Java in 1896. Initially, his effort does not produce a satisfying result, but in 1904, suddenly four chiefs (the head of the town) from Kalibawang region came to his house and demanded him to give them education in the religion, until on 15 December 1904, a group of 178 Javanese were baptised at Semagung, between two trees called "Sono". This became the place that is nowadays called Sendangsono, which is located in Muntilan, district Magelang, Central Java, near the border of province DI Yogyakarta.

Van Lith also established a school for teachers in Muntilan called "Normaalschool" in 1900 and "Kweekschool (also for teachers)" in 1904. In 1918, all Roman Catholic schools were put under an institute, called "Yayasan Kanisius", which produces the first priests and bishops of Indonesia. In 20th Century, the Roman Catholic Church grew fast.

In 1911, Van Lith established "Seminari Menengah" (Seminari, an Indonesian word, is a school that give instructions to future priests). Three out of six candidates that were in the school during 1911-1914 were received into priesthood in 1926-1928. Those priests were FX Satiman SJ, A. Djajasepoetra SJ, and Albertus Soegijapranata SJ.

The independence war era

Albertus Soegijapranata became the first Indonesian bishop on 1940.

On 20 December 1948, Father Sandjaja and Frater Hermanus Bouwens SJ were killed in a village called Kembaran, near Muntilan, when Dutch soldiers attacked Semarang which continued to Yogyakarta. Father Sandjaja is recognised as Indonesian martyr in the history of Roman Catholic Church in Indonesia.

Monsigneur (abbreviated Mgr., normally reserved for a bishop) Soegijapranata with Bishop Willekens SJ faced the Japanese colonial rule, and they managed to keep Saint Carolus Hospital to operate normally.

There are a lot of Indonesian national heroes who are Catholics, such as Agustinus Adisoetjipto (1947) (his name became the name of Yogyakarta International Airport, Adisutjipto Airport), Ignatius Slamet Riyadi (1945), and Yos Soedarso (1961).

The post-independence era

The first Indonesian (arch)bishop to be made the first Indonesian cardinal was Justinus Kardinal Darmojuwono on 29 June 1967. Indonesian Roman Catholic Church is active in the worldwide Roman Catholic Church. Indonesian Bishop took part in Vatican Council II - Konsili Vatikan II which was on 1962-1965.
Pope Paul VI visited Indonesia on 1970, followed in 1989 by Pope John Paul II. The places that were visited were Jakarta (capital of Indonesia), Medan (North Sumatra), Yogyakarta (DI Yogyakarta), cities of Central Java province, Maumere (Flores), and Dili (Timor Timur), which is now part of East Timor.

The current (arch)bishop of "Keuskupan Agung Jakarta" (translated as Archbishopric of Jakarta), and also Indonesia's current and only Cardinal is Julius Darmaatmadja, styled Julius Riyadi Cardinal Darmaatmadja SJ. He took part in conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

The post "coup d'état" era

In 1965 there after the so-called abortive coup attempt by the Indonesian Communist Party, a purge was carried out amongst Indonesian communists and alleged communists, especially in Java and Bali. Hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions civilians were killed in the ensuing turmoil by the army and vigilantes. [In Central Java the mass killings were carried out by the army much while in East Java the mass killings were also carried out by others. Robert Cribb (2000:170).] Communism was associated with atheism and since then every Indonesian citizen was expected to adopt one of the five official religion endorsed by the state.Adolf Heuken (2005:107)]

Roman Catholicism, as well as other religions, experienced an enormous growth especially in areas inhabited by large numbers of Chinese Indonesians and ethnic Javanese. For example in 2000 in Jakarta alone, there were 301,084 Catholics while in 1960, there were just 26,955. This is an increase of factor 11 while the whole population almost tripled from 2,800,000 to 8,347,000.

The dramatic increase of the number of Catholics in particular and Christians in general has led to enmity and allegations of 'Christianization'. [For example in 1989 when Pope John Paul II visited Yogyakarta, Indonesia, he received a letter full of such accusations. The letter was written by Moh. Natsir, K.H. Masykur, K.H. Rusli Abd Wahid, and H.M. Rasyidi. These gentlemen were prominent Muslim leaders at that time. "Panji Masyarakat" 31-10-1989. This information is cited from Adolf Heuken (2005:107)]

The second half of 1990's and begin 2000's were also marked by violence against Catholics in particular and Christian in general. However former president Abdurrahman Wahid, himself a leader of Nahdatul Ulama, one of the biggest Muslim organization in Indonesia, has made several contributions in bringing together the different parts of the population.


The Indonesian Central Statistic Bureau (BPS) conducts a census every 10 years. The latest data available, from 2000, drew on 201,241,999 survey responses; the BPS estimated that the census missed 4.6 million persons. The BPS report indicated that 88.22 percent (210 million in 2004) of the population label themselves Muslim, 5.87 percent Protestant, 3.05 percent Catholic, 1.81 percent Hindu, 0.84 percent Buddhist, and 0.2 percent "other," including traditional indigenous religions, other Christian groups, and Judaism. The country's religious composition remains a politically charged issue, and some Christians, Hindus, and members of other minority faiths argue that the census undercounted non-Muslims.



* Robert Cribb, "Historical Atlas of Indonesia". London: Curzon Press, Singapore: New Asian Library (2000) ISBN 981-04-2771-9
* Adolf Heuken, 'Archdiocese of Jakarta - a Growing Local Church (1950-2000)' in "Een vakkracht in het Koninkrijk. Kerk- en zendingshistorie opstellen" onder redactie van dr. Chr.G.F. de Jong (2005:104-114) ISBN 90-5829-611-3
* Leopold Maria van Rijckevorsel S.J., "Pastoor F. van Lith S.J. : de stichter van de missie in Midden-Java, 1863-1926". Nijm

* Karel Steenbrink, "Catholics in Indonesia, 1808-1942 : a documented history". Leiden:KITLV Press ISBN 90-6718-141-2
* Karel Steenbrink, 'A Catholic Sadrach: the contested conversions of Madrais adherents in West Java between 1960-2000' in "Een vakkracht in het Koninkrijk. Kerk- en zendingshistorie opstellen" onder redactie van dr. Chr.G.F. de Jong (2005:286-307) ISBN 90-5829-611-3


ee also

* Religion in Indonesia
* Christianity in Indonesia
* Demographics of Indonesia

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