Exploring Indonesian Catholic Political Vision in early Time of Indonesia Independence

The famous motto of Indonesian Catholic could actually means full support toward state even though it always stated we support state only when they serve common good, but in reality, throughout the history, Indonesian Catholic could only support the state and remain silent when it comes to a worst condition.

Nandito Oktaviano
Nandito Oktaviano
Penulis lepas yang tertarik dengan isu-isu ekonomi politik internasional, rasisme, agama dan politik, dan isu internasional lainnya.

Indonesia political history has been discussed massively with a rich perspective and varying object of inquiries. However, as a Indonesian Catholic, I often come up with a question of what is the role of Catholic in the time of Indonesia Revolution? When I was still in junior and senior high school, I was often told that we, Catholic, played our role in supporting Indonesia independence and struggling with other Indonesians. Later on, a film of the first Indonesia bishop, Soegija Pranata, released and it is well known as the portrait of how Indonesian Catholic has been always in Indonesia side all along. It’s later enforced by the sole and famous political principal of Indonesian Catholic, 100% percent Indonesia, 100% catholic.

However, what is intriguing me the most is not the dominant narrative of how one minority tried their best to support the country that they live in. It is the way of how the Catholic participation described that draw my attention. In one biographical book of the famous initial Indonesian Catholic politician in Indonesia, I.J. Kasimo, which is written by Indonesia priest J.B. Soedarmanta, the discourse on Catholic political principle (100% Indonesia,100% Catholic) and how Kasimo strive and inspired by catholic morality (humanism above all) have a very strong resemblance with how Soegija Pranata depicted. Since both of these figures historical narrative are dominantly produced by the same institution, Catholic Church, the resemblance of the description seems quite plausible.  

Nevertheless, the history of Indonesian catholic role in Indonesian politics proved to be much more complicated. One critic comes from Windu Jusuf, a prominent film review, that highlight the problem of historical narrative in Soegija film. He said that this film tend to ignore the complexity of social and political situation in which Soegija lived and faced. It describe Soegija as a non-historical figure that is free from internal conflict and use Soegija to represent how the minority also participate in the independence struggle. The same problem also appears in Kasimo biographical narration.in which he was depicted as a stubborn and honest politician in the early independence period. Further, instead of showing the ideational dimension of Kasimo thought during this era, the book only care to explain the moral quality of Kasimo and suggest those things to be reproduced by the present politician. Thus, one astounding conclusion could be stated here, instead of providing a real narrative of Indonesian catholic participation in the history of Indonesia’s politic, most of the narratives are used to create a superficial stories that is fit with nationalistic perspective.  

In order to transcend this, as Einstein once put it, the key is the question. This will draw me to elaborate my earlier question toward a more structural question. If, let’s say that in the past Indonesian catholic took some certain role and political stances, the crucial question is then why did they choose to do that, not the other role or form of contribution? This question then requires an explanation of material and ideational condition that drive the Catholic to do so. To narrow the case, I would explore this condition through Kasimo, the first and the most prominent Indonesian Catholic politician, political stance in the early time of Indonesia independence. His political stance then would be explained and interpret critically.

Catholic and Indonesia Independence, Moving Beyond a Moralistic and Nationalistic History

As the starting point, it is central to note that in the time of Southeast Asia Revolution, as Clive J. Christie in his book, Ideology and Revolution in Southeast Asia 1900-1980 stated, every social group that was participated in the struggle of independence has their political stance and vision as well. Sometimes, they could even conflict each other because of their ideology and tactic. Indonesia is not a different case. Thus, any harmonic imagination that depict national struggle as united and non-conflict action should be abandoned. As a result of this, one can further ask, with this social and political setting, how did Indonesian Catholic play their part? How is their political stance? How is their vision toward Indonesia? Where does their vision come from (ideology)? On this part, as the initial step, the political stance of Indonesian Catholic and his vision on certain political events in the time of Indonesia revolution would be explained through Kasimo political action. The next part will try to explain why do Kasimo take the specific political stance and not the other stance.

Further, it is also crucial to provide a narrative of the general social and political condition of Christians in Indonesia in the time of Indonesia Revolution; I refer the Indonesia Revolution as a event that occur before/after the independence of Indonesia to the time where New Order is established. The historical record from Gerry van Klinken in his book, Minorities, Modernity, and the Emerging Nation: Christians in Indonesia, a Biographical Approach has been impressively provide a social and political background of Christian Indonesia in the time of revolution. First of all, it’s crucial to note that most of these Christians share particular similarities when it comes to the struggle of independence. Many of them disagree with mass action and even give it a very backward stereotype such chaos or reactive moves. They do see independence as something crucial for the nation, but they prefer evolutionary change rather than revolutionary change. Their backgrounds as indigenous elite which have some privileges play a very big role on this particular political position. Second, they face similar dilemmatic position on this struggle. On one hand, they are a Christian and mainly associated with Dutch and thus colonial. On the other hand, they are Indonesian and this forces them to choose their side starkly. These two conditions are crucial whenever we want to understand the Christian position in Indonesia struggle. 

After knowing those backgrounds, I will move closer to Kasimo position. We could simply ask, does the general condition of Christians apply to Kasimo as well? I would like to answer this by putting Gerry Klinken opening notes in Kasimo biographical note,

…Much current Christian historiography in Indonesia asserts that Christian always supported the nationalist cause. We have seen that this was far from the truth…Kasimo, representing the mainstream Protestant and Catholic political life, was too ‘responsible’ to identify with such a movement for emancipation…  


In the pre-time of Indonesia independence, Kasimo was one of the local elite which played crucial role in Dutch government; this is the consequence of ethical policy Dutch colonial. He sat on Volksraad and had a dominant role in establishing Indies Catholic Party (Indische Katholik Partij). Later on, he has ever insisted that, in the future, Indies (which mostly he refers as Java) should have its independence because every nation has a right to do so. However, one should note that Kasimo’s imagination for this dream is mostly transitional. This means independence will be given from the Dutch to Indonesia later on. When a group of nationalist leader in Java set up a plan to make a revolutionary change in 1920s, Kasimo did not put a great interest. So did the Catholic Party. For sure, there are internal conflicts between Indonesian Catholic which demand Kasimo to take side with nationalist movement, but he proved to be conservative. Besides his personal choice, the reality of Catholic Church also had played big role as well. Being dominantly dependent on the state support (Dutch), the clerical forced Kasimo not to join the nationalist movement. Kasimo chose not to opposed this and even get scolded by other nationalist figures as the puppet of the clergy.

When the Japanese occupation occurs, Kasimo did not really play any significant political role. However, there is no significant change on his stance for the independence movement. He is still conservative, evolutionary, and anti-mass movement; thus anti-communism as well (it should be note that in the pre-war time many Marxist figures play a crucial role in creating the revolutionary nationalist movement). This makes him took a side in the pro-government position in the first period of independence struggle (1945-1950). In order to fully grasp why Kasimo chose this side and what’s the meaning of this choice, one should note the social condition of Indonesia in 1945-1950. Benedict Anderson’s book, Revoloesi Pemoeda, Pendudukan Jepang dan Perlawanan di Jawa 1944-1946[1], could be used as a starting point. In that book, Ben Anderson shows that there were two conflicting methods of struggle, the diplomatic side with its evolutionary method (the government) and the guerilla military method (opposition side). Kasimo’s choice to support the government precisely reflects his mindset. Besides, his presence was need for the struggle of international recognition. At the time, Catholic party had a dominant constituent in Dutch parliamentary. He was expected to make a lobby for the Catholic party in Dutch, but he didn’t really make a significant move. Later on, around 1950-1960s, when the conflict between PKI and the government intensified and sharpen, he took side with the anti-communist position (Nasution, Masjumi, and Partai Katolik Indonesia). Gerry van Klinken then remind us that, 

…Common to all three[2] was an abhorrence of ideological mobilization, a belief in the rightness of a strong centralized state in undisputed control of the means of violence, and a trust in the technical abilities of educated officials to run the affairs of the state…

(p. 213)

This stance still proved to be his dominant attitude toward the ideal mode of government. When Soekarno turned to be autocratic and has the mass as his social power, Kasimo took opposition side; which ridiculously depicted as his strong commitment to democracy by J.B. Soedarmanta. It actually reflects his stance toward communism and ideological mobilization. Later on, as history shown, he kept silent when the banning of PKI in 1965 and the mass killing (I think Catholic party even contribute to it) happened; something which fundamentally will not fit with any democracy ideas or practice.         

Kasimo Conservative Political Stance: Catholicism and Organic State

After exposing Kasimo’s political stance, one may ask, how could we differentiate between Kasimo personal vision and stance with Catholic stance? To put it simply, Is Kasimo stance Catholic at all? In order to answer this, Daniel Dhakidae notes in his masterpiece Cendekiawan dan Kekuasaan dalam Negara Orde Baru, which explore the ideological discourse of Catholic and its relation with state would be crucial to expose the inspiration of Kasimo political stance. However, before that, I would like to explain the material condition of Indonesian Catholic when it comes to politic. Indonesian politicians have a great dependence on Church authority in terms of doctrinal interpretation and vision. It is even impossible to use ‘catholic’ term without any approval from imprimi potest institution of Catholic Church. As the consequence, political character of Catholic intellectual and politician depends greatly on the hierarchy of Catholic Church. This dependence could even applied in a wider context in which there is no ‘catholic’ event or doctrine without church permission (see Dhakidae, 2003: 613-614). 

Facing this kind of material condition, it is then safe to assume that Kasimo political stance would be inspired by doctrine from Catholic Church as well. The key question then is what doctrine? The historical context in early 1900s could be a starting point for this. It is on this time Catholic Church was facing intense change and threats such Marxism, liberalism, and decolonization. As a response, Church release a first doctrine which later called Catholic Social Teachings. The first Pope to translate this principle into encyclical is Pope Leo XIII. He later on released an encyclical called Rerum Novarum. One of its arguments toward the world social condition is crucial to be note here.

 …The great mistake made in regard to the matter now under consideration is to take up with notion that class is hostile class, and that the wealthy and the workingmen are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict. So irrational and so false is this view, that the direct contrary is the truth. Just as the symmetry of the human frame is the resultant of the disposition of the bodily members, so in a State is it ordained by nature that these two classes should dwell in harmony and agreement, and should, as it were, groove into one another, so as to maintain the balance of the body politic

(Dhakidae, 2003:631)

This notes then signify one of the fundamental doctrine on how Church view society as a system. Society is portrayed as human body in which each body part should play its function so that the body could function in oneness. Further, church are also put a great attention not only the harmony of society, but also a reality in which this harmony is being destroyed by the so called liberalism or capitalism. In this context, church is also care on the condition of the working class. However, as church has a distinct political position toward a Marxist, church then come with a different social and political vision. Catholic Social Teaching later propose that, 

…The order of laissez-faire capitalism thus has become unjust, creating unwarranted privileges of vested property rights against unjustly suppressed personal rights of the working classes. Formal right can, under our mode of existence, become material wrong. In these conditions, the state needs power and must apply force for the sake of its own end. It must forcefully change parts of the actual order which have grown unjust. It must use force against the selfish resistance of the privileged interest that range themselves above the new and just order…


The message of this comment is pretty obvious. State has a privilege rights and power to intervene for the sake of common good (bonum commune). In this particular context, it is crucial also to note that common good could only be achieved through ‘common sense’ or ‘the right reason’. Central to this principle also is the very fact that common sense does not need a process in which every group would deliver their opinions so that state ‘knows’ what is common good. On its modern translation, the ‘right reason’ could refer to intellectual, expert, professional, and technocrat who deemed to understand everything. Achieving truth then need no voting. Beside the supremacy of right reason, to rely solely on the capacity of society would be risky. Because, latent conflict in society will always exist and could even destroy the order of the society. Thus, state power is something legitimate and even seems natural for the need of the society.

The doctrine of organic state in Catholicism then exposes several crucial features. First, the central role of centralistic role is needed. Second, the purpose of state’s existence is to achieve common good. Third, to achieve the common good, it relies on the supremacy of reason (intellectuality). One could quickly realize how these features have a striking resemblance with Gerry van Klinken description on Kasimo political stance who tend to support the idea of strong state which led by technocrat. With this understanding as well, we could really understand why Kasimo oppose the mass movement tactic and Soekarno’s mass dictatorship government. It is not because Kasimo favors democracy over anything—he may favors democracy but not in the liberal term. It is solely because he see that movement and mode of government as something which does not fit with his political vision. This is also a more plausible account in explaining why, in spite of the undemocratic feature of New Order, Kasimo stay still and did not strongly oppose the government.

Conclusion: Church as a Faithful Servant of State (?)

Since I was in junior and senior high school, I have always told that as a catholic, I should embrace one doctrine, 100% Indonesia and 100% Catholic. On that time, I found this idea relieving because I realize that I could also my part in this nation as a minority. However, certain life events make me realize this discourse also plays a role as an ideology which can legitimate certain social facts. I’ve always think that to be a Catholic and a nationalist is an absurd idea. It could not be reconciled. Take example the case of mass murder of communist sympathizers or the case of East Timor. How can church legitimize their support in the face of those cruelties? Even in Flores, as John Mansford Prior notes in his article “Masa Lalu Tak Pernah Mati, Bahkan Tak Pernah Berlalu: Catatan Seputar Pembantaian Terencana di Maumere, Februari-April 1966”[3], Indonesian catholic played a role to kill and the Church remained silent. What is Catholic from this kind of action? 

Because of that, I’ve come up with an idea to trace the origin of this idea. What is the meaning and what is the aim. My first attempt then is to explore the first prominent politician of Indonesian Catholic. This attempt is driven by the fact that, as it always declared, the motto comes up from the first Indonesian Bishop Soegija Pranata. I deliberately move to another figure such as Kasimo because he will have a more intense interaction with political condition in Indonesia. To my surprise, what I’ve found only gives me dissatisfaction. Because, the famous motto of Indonesian Catholic could actually means full support toward state. Even though it always stated we support state only when they serve common good, but in reality, throughout the history, Indonesian Catholic could only support the state and remain silent when it comes to a worst condition. Church will always rely on tactics like lobbying or internal networking and will ignore the voice of its people who try to mobilize and speak for themselves. It is also no wonder that the present day concern on Indonesian catholic is nothing but freedom of religion expression. Social issues like poverty, colonization in Papua, deforestation, or corruption do not get a great echo among Indonesian Catholics. In order to transcend this, I believe the first initial thing to be attempted is to rethink the Church doctrine on State. Without this, I believe Indonesian Catholic will always be a faithful servant of the state.


[1] The English version of this book is Java in a Time of Revolution: Occupantion and Resistance, 1944-1946

[2] All three here refers to Christian figures such as Goenong Moelia, Kasimo, and Soegija Pranata.

[3] English translation for the title would be,”The Past Is Never Dead, Nor does the Past Pass.” A Note on a Planned Massacre in Maumere, February-April 1996”


Anderson, Benedict. 2018. Revoloesi Pemoeda, Pendudukan Jepang dan Perlawanan di Jawa 1944-1946. Tangeran Selatan: Marjin Kiri

Clive, J.C. 2012. Ideology and Revolution in Southeast Asia 1900-1980. London: Routledge

Dhakidae, Daniel. 2003. Cendekiawaan dan Kekuasaan dalam Negara Orde Baru. Jakarta: Gramedia Pustaka Utama

Klinken, Gerry. 2003. Minorities, Modernity, and the Emerging Nation: Christians in Indonesia, a Biographical Approach. KITLV Press

Prior, John. 2015. “Masa Lalu Tak Pernah Mati, Bahkan Tak Pernah Berlalu: Catatan Seputar Pembantaian Terencana di Maumere, Februari-April 1966,” in Berani Berhenti Berbohong:50 Tahun Pascaperistiwa 1965-1966. Maumere: Ledalero

Soedarmantha, J.B. 2011. Politik Bermartabat:Biografi I.J. Kasimo. Jakarta: Kompas Gramedia

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