Sydney Morning Herald [Sydney, New South Wales, Australia]
December 21, 2021
By Chris Barrett
Singapore – Richard Daschbach, the defrocked American priest whose child sex abuse trial has shaken deeply Catholic East Timor, has been found guilty and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The 84-year-old learnt his fate on Tuesday in the District Court of Oecusse, the western Timorese enclave where he abused children at a remote shelter he ran for girls and boys for more than two decades.
Revered to such an extent that his followers believed he had special powers, Daschbach was suspected of abusing at least a dozen young girls at the Topu Honis orphanage.
On Tuesday, he was found guilty of the sexual abuse of four female children there.
Jurídico Social, the human rights law firm that represented the nine victims in the case, said it would “go down as a historical day in the development of the Timor-Leste judicial sector”.
“The history written today is a bitter history for the entire nation. 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,” Jurídico Social said in a statement.
“We invite the entire society to learn from this case, and do everything we can to ensure that such terrible crimes are not repeated in the future.
“By far, this case is the biggest case of sexual violence registered in the courts of Timor-Leste, considering the number of victims involved and the length of time during which the crimes were committed.”
However, while Daschbach may well die in jail given his age, the victims lawyers protested that the sentence failed “to reflect the gravity of the case and the actual practice of courts”.
“In fact, considering the gravity of the crimes, the accused should have been given the maximum sentence as provided in Timor-Leste – 30 years in prison,” they said.
“The victims disagree with the punishment given by the court and we will make an appeal.“
The trial had been an enormously polarising issue in a country that is almost entirely Catholic.
While the disgraced ex-priest admitted his guilt – including in a letter revealed by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in June – he retained support, most controversially from former president and independence hero Xanana Gusmao.
Even on Tuesday, when Daschbach faced the verdict of a trial that had been delayed on several occasions, he had supporters at the court. In video footage posted by Portuguese news agency Lusa, he waved at supporters as they tried to enter the building to embrace him, only to be blocked by police.
Daschbach, who was admired for his role in the country’s independence movement, was removed by the Vatican when the allegations against him surfaced.
Victims told police he would tape a list of their names to the door of his room at the orphanage, outlining which one of them he would abuse each night after evening prayer.
“The prison sentence handed down by the court will not remove the suffering and the scar left on the victims. The guilty verdict and its sentence will not restore the happy youth days the girls have lost,” the victims lawyers said.
“However, the sentence by the court today will pave the way for the victims and their families to restore their dignities and rebuild their lives, knowing that the wrong against them has been recognised by the Timorese courts.“
Daschbach was in August also charged by US authorities with seven counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place following an investigation by the FBI.