Former priest, 82, jailed for 12 years over Timor-Leste child abuse

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Former American priest Richard Daschbach
Former American priest Richard Daschbach (centre white shirt, back to camera), 82, in court for the sentencing on Tuesday. Image: Antonio Sampaio/Lusa

By Antonio Sampaio in Oecusse, Timor-Leste

Defrocked American priest Richard Daschbach, 82, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for the crimes of sexual abuse of orphaned and vulnerable girls in his care.

He was sentenced on Tuesday for various sexual offences against girls at the Topu Honis orphanage which he controlled.

His minimum sentence was 12 years, taking into account several factors including the defendant’s age.

The judge ordered immediate preventive detention over concerns that he might escape. He was acquitted of child pornography charges.

Financial compensation to victims was ordered.

The case against Daschbach has marked the first time that allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by a priest have gone to trial in the staunchly Catholic country.

Daschbach, who founded the Topu Honis shelter for orphans and vulnerable children in the early 1990s, was accused of 14 counts of sexual abuse of children younger than 14, as well as one charge of child pornography and domestic violence.

The trial began in February in this enclave of Oecusse, 200 km west of the capital, Dili, and near his Topu Honis shelter.

Richard Daschbach
The ex-priest and former missionary Richard Daschbach (masked) at a courthouse in the Oecusse enclave, Timor-Leste, on February 22, 2021. Image: Lusa

Closed to public
Court proceedings were closed to the public, and the trial was postponed several times before concluding last month.

Responding to Tuesday’s sentencing, Daschbach’s lawyer, Miguel Faria, said he did not accept it and would coordinate with the defendant and his family to prepare an appeal.

Lawyers representing the victims from the group Juridico Social applauded the verdict but said they would also appeal.

In a statement, the group said that considering the gravity of the crimes, Daschbach should have received a maximum sentence of 30 years.

“The history written today is a bitter history for the entire nation,” the group said. “Our children were subjected to horrendous crimes for such a long time because we, as a society, were blinded by the belief that a figure as the defendant in this case would not commit such crimes against children.”

The Vatican defrocked the Pittsburgh-born priest in November 2018, but Daschbach enjoys strong support from independence heroes, including former President Xanana Gusmao, who went to the court on Tuesday.

East Timor is generally the most staunchly Catholic place outside the Vatican and Daschbach is revered for his assistance during the Southeast Asian nation’s campaign for independence from Indonesia

Daschbach is also facing charges in the United States.

Antonio Sampaio is the Lusa news agency correspondent in Timor-Leste. Republished with permission.

Former President Xanana Gusmao
Former President Xanana Gusmao, who went to the court on Tuesday in support of Daschbach. Image: Lusa
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