East Timor puts ex-US priest on trial in sex abuse scandal

East Timor puts ex-US priest on trial in sex abuse scandal

A defrocked American priest faced a criminal trial Monday on allegations he sexually abused young girls at a children’s shelter he ran in a remote enclave in East Timor — one of the most Catholic places on Earth.

Richard Daschbach, 84, a former missionary from Pennsylvania, is charged with 14 counts of sexual abuse of children under the age of 14, as well as counts of child pornography and domestic violence, according to the country’s Prosecutor General.

The case against Daschbach represents East Timor’s first child sex case filed against a priest but it has been complicated by his hero status and loyal devotion from followers.

The son of a Pittsburgh steelworker, he arrived in the country as part of Divine Word Missionaries, or SVD, in the 1960s and became an unlikely leader in the tiny nation’s struggle for independence from neighboring Indonesia in 1999. He is credited with sheltering women and children and even helping fight off attackers. He also founded Topu Honis, a children’s home that has over the years taken in hundreds of boys and girls who were either orphaned or came from desperately poor families.

Allegations that Daschbach was abusing those children first surfaced three years ago. At least 15 females have since come forward, according to JU,S Jurídico Social, a group of human rights lawyers representing the accusers. The team described the trial in a statement as a fight not just for victims, “but one of the whole Timorese society.”

An official at the Catholic church in East Timor’s capital, Dili, said Daschbach was defrocked in 2018 after he confessed to sexually abusing the children. The allegations ranged from fondling and oral sex to rape. Former donors also said he admitted it to them, but the ex-priest has not admitted to it publicly.

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Daschbach, who also secured American funding, is wanted in the U.S. for three counts of wire fraud. An Interpol Red Notice has been issued for his arrest.

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