|Subject: CNS: Official denies E. Timor church
charging improper voter fees
Date: Sun, 01 Aug 1999 11:22:07 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Official denies E. Timor church charging improper voter fees By Catholic News Service
DILI, East Timor (CNS) -- A Dili church official denied a media report that parishes were charging exorbitant fees for papers needed to register for a U.N.-organized referendum on autonomy.
Father Domingos Sequeira, secretary of the Apostolic Administration of Dili, called the accusation "nonsense and baseless" and said the criticism was politically motivated, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand.
The Suara Timor Timur (East Timor Voice) daily reported July 23 that parish offices were collecting administrative fees of 100,000-200,000 rupiah (US$14.50-$29) for a copy of a baptismal or marriage certificate. The publication quoted Basilio Dias Araujo, a spokesman for Unity, Democracy and Justice Forum.
The United Nations says the average income for an East Timor resident is $340 yearly, or $6.54 weekly.
Father Sequeira told a Dili press conference July 25, "Such an accusation was launched to discredit the church hierarchy and to undermine the authority of the clergy, who are called to dedicate their whole life for the good of the faithful.
"The collection of administration fees by parish offices is in accordance with church law (canons 1260 and 1262), and the amounts are decided by the bishop commensurate with the people's income," the East Timorese priest said.
Current fees are 5,000-10,000 rupiah (US$0.70-1.40) for a baptismal certificate, 10,000-25,000 rupiah (US$1.40-3.60) for a marriage certificate, and 1,000-5,000 rupiah (US$0.14-0.70) for an identity card as a member of the church, he added.
"So it is clear that the church does not burden the faithful who are facing economic difficulty," said Father Sequeira, who was accompanied at the press conference by Father Jose Antonio, episcopal vicar of Dili.
Father Sequeira added that Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, apostolic administrator of Dili, and the local priests' council agreed July 8 that parishes would issue the identity card free of charge.
He said the decision was made "to facilitate registration of all the people, especially the needy ones, at the registration posts of UNAMET," the U.N. Mission in East Timor.
As an institution responsible for building the faith of all Catholics, the church does not side with any of the conflicting groups but remains neutral and hopes that all East Timorese people will use this opportunity to build a better future, Father Sequeira added.
The Indonesian government has said that independence is the only alternative to its autonomy proposal for East Timor, which Indonesia integrated as a province in 1976 in a move not recognized by the United Nations or the Vatican.