01/23/2013, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Authorities back away from compulsory Islam teaching in East Java Catholic schools

by Mathias Hariyadi
After days of meetings and negotiations, injunction is rescinded. For a Catholic leader, the affair has a "happy ending". A false report had previously suggested that the schools were willing to accommodate city. Surabaya bishop mediated the dispute.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Six Catholic schools in Blitar, a town in East Java Province, will not be closed, nor will they have to provide compulsory courses on Islam and the Qur'an in response to an injunction by local authorities, this according to B. Djokodwihatmono, executive secretary of the Education Commission of the Indonesian Bishops of Conference (KWI). Speaking to AsiaNews, he said that after three days of "intense talks" between local officials and members of the John Gabriel Foundation, which acted on behalf of the Diocese of Surabaya, tensions were eased, resulting in a "happy ending".

The six schools in danger of closure were Diponegoro Catholic High School, Catholic Vocational Training High School, Saint Mary KG, Saint Mary Elementary School, Yos Sudarso Catholic Elementary and Yos Sudarso Catholic Junior High School.

At the end of last year, they received an injunction from the city to implement Regional Order 8/2012 by "19 January", which required that Muslim pupils be taught Islam in school (in accordance with National Law 55/2007).

School administrators reacted firmly against Blitar's threat of closure. They noted that parents and pupils who register with the schools are "fully cognizant of the fact that only the Christian religion is taught in these schools". Muslim families have readily accepted such a requirement because Catholic schools are known for their high quality education.

In recent days, the issue was made more complicated by some reports in Jakarta's English-language media according to which the Catholic schools were willing to offer courses on Islam.

Such inaccurate and wrong information stems from a statement made by an official with the John Gabriel Foundation who, without any authorisation, said the schools were prepared to submit to the ultimatum. This led to heated and angry discussions among Indonesian Christians.

The issue was finally solved through the mediation of Catholic leaders, including the bishop of Surabaya, Mgr Vincentius Sutikno Wisaksono.

"I am firmly convinced that the city of Blitar has officially dropped its injunction," B. Djokodwihatmono said.

Sources in Blitar City Hall, anonymous because unauthorised to make any public statement, noted that the decision to pull back is due to pressures from the Indonesian Democracy Party Struggle (PDIP), which backed the city's current leadership in the last election.

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