Church demands Timor-Leste faithful accept defrocking of accused priest

Dili, Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste capital Dili ... former priest expelled by the Catholic Church now under house arrest over allegations. Image: Lusa

Asia Pacific Report newsdesk

The Timorese Episcopal Conference has called on the entire Catholic community in Timor-Leste to accept and respect Pope Francis’ decision to expel an American accused of child sexual abuse in the country from the priesthood, reports LUSA news agency.

“Mr Richard Daschbach has already received his sentence for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the number 208 / 2018-67069 of November 6, 2018 from Pope Francis: he is no longer a priest, he is now a layman,” said the CET statement.

“Confirmed by the Archdiocese of Dili” and addressed “to priests, religious, deacons, brothers, nuns and all baptised in Timor-Leste”, the statement said.

“According to this decree of the Holy Father, there is nothing more to say about this priest’s priesthood. Priests, deacons, brothers, mothers and all the baptised are asked to respect this decree and not make any further comments ”, it said.

The statement, signed by the president of the Timorese Episcopal Conference (CET), Norberto do Amaral, bishop of Maliana, comes after news and images on Timorese social networks that re-identified Daschbach as a priest, including by some religious, have spread in recent days.

“The Pope’s decision comes from a deep and lengthy process to finally arrive at this final decision. Once again, I ask everyone to respect and accept this decision of the Pope,” wrote Do Amaral.

News of the East Timorese charge against Daschbach, who is accused of child sexual abuse and pornography, and who has already been convicted of these crimes by the Vatican, has sparked criticism of journalists, lawyers and victim support organisations.

Criticism over Gusmão visit
The debate over the case reignited this week after former East Timorese President Xanana Gusmão visited Daschbach in the house where he is under house arrest in Dili on the accused’s birthday.

News coverage of this visit drew criticism from the president of the Timorese Press Council, Virgílio Guterres, who said the news in the national press tried to “whitewash” Daschbach.

“This is serious news. This is an attempt to influence public opinion and even people in court to influence the decision,” he said.

“It is very serious because the news does not even make reference to the Vatican’s expulsion decisions or data on the crime he is accused of in East Timorese justice,” he told Lusa.

Although the articles mention that the ex-priest is the subject of an ongoing judicial process, they never explain what are the crimes he is accused of in East Timor or the fact that Daschbach had already been convicted and sacked by the Vatican.

The news presents in great detail a biography of Daschbach without ever referring to data on the crimes of which he is accused.

Daschbach, 84, is accused of abusing at least two dozen children in the orphanage where he worked, Topu Honis, and of the crimes of child pornography, according to the East Timorese prosecutor’s office.

Vatican ‘has no doubt’
In October last year, the representative of the Holy See in Dili told Lusa that the Vatican “has no doubt” that the former priest was guilty of these crimes, expelling him from the priesthood.

“There is no doubt for the Church that he is guilty of sexual abuse against minors, recognised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with an unappealable sentence,” said Marco Sprizzi, interim nuncio and the maximum representative of the Pope and of the Vatican in Timor-Leste.

“Richard Daschbach himself admitted and pleaded guilty before the Church. He looks like he backed down before civil justice, but before the church he never backed down.

“I want to be clear on this, ”said Sprizzi, who is responsible in Timor-Leste for the relationship between the Holy See and the Timorese Catholic Church and for the Holy See’s relationship with the Timorese state.

The archbishop of Dili, Vírgilio do Carmo da Silva, had previously apologised for criticism and accusations to all those who have been involved in the investigation of the former priest accused of pedophilia and child pornography in Timor-Leste, reaffirming his full support for the victims .

“On behalf of the Archdiocese of Dili, I want to apologise for the accusations and allegations that have affected the people involved in the investigation. The church wants to give its support and help the victims declared by the police authorities,” he said.

The ABC reports that Daschbach was regarded as a hero in Timor-Leste for founding children’s shelters that had operated for more than two decades.

He founded the Topu Honis or “Guide To Life” children’s homes in Oekusi Ambeno, an East Timorese enclave in the Indonesian-controlled western half of Timor, in 1992, the broadcaster reported.

Daschbach was also feted for saving children during East Timor’s war for independence from Indonesia.

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