Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]
January 30, 2023
By UCA News reporter
Timor Leste’s former president and four-time prime minister Xanana Gusmao has come under fire for joining the birthday party of a defrocked American priest jailed for child sex abuse.
The photos and videos showing Gusmao celebrating the 86th birthday of his long-time friend and ex-priest, Richard Daschbach, in Becora Prison in the capital Dili, on Jan. 26, sparked debates on social media.
Photos showed Gusmao, flanked by some other guests, cutting and sharing cake while smiling.
Richard Daschbach was sentenced to 12 years in jail in December 2021 for sexually abusing several minors in a childcare home he founded in the 1990s.
Supporters of the abuse victims said the incident has hurt them.
“This was very painful for the victims to see. It is a slap in the face to the victims,” a source close to the victims told UCA News on Jan 30.
She condemned the celebration and slammed Gusmao for his apathy towards the victims.
“Daschbach was convicted of sexual abuse by the Timorese justice system and also defrocked by the Catholic Church, yet Gusmao continues to publicly celebrate him,” she said.
She also questioned the preferential treatment extended to the convict by prison officials.
“I believe it is a national embarrassment; what does this say about the priorities of the Timorese government? Do they value justice and the healing of the many girls and women who were victimized by Daschbach? Or do they value upholding the celebrity status of men like Daschbach and Gusmao?” the source asked.
On the Facebook page “Xanana ba Ema Hotu,” which regularly posts about Gusmao’s activities, the photos of the party have received a lot of support, where many netizens still refer to Daschbach as “Padre” or Father, despite warnings from the church that he was no longer a priest after the Vatican dismissed him in 2018.
Virgilio Guterres, an ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice, said the birthday party was “a sad scene” for the Timorese public, especially when it involved a public figure like Gusmo.
“With this visit, [Gusmao] is sending the wrong message that the ex-pastor is innocent,” he was quoted as saying by Diligenteonline.com.
Guterres said he would investigate whether there had been a violation of prison rules.
Meanwhile, Joao Domingo, director of Becora Prison said all prison inmates have a right to celebrate their birthdays with their families.
“This is a normal process for all prisoners,” he said.
He said, not only Gusmao but anyone could visit a prison with due permission to celebrate in the presence of security.
This is reportedly the second time the former president and prime minister has visited Daschbach on his birthday. The first was at the home where the former priest was under house arrest in 2021, which prompted the freedom fighter’s three children to write letters to the victims, regretting their father’s action.
Dashbach was dismissed by the Vatican in 2018 following admission that he had sexually abused girls he cared for at Topu Honis, the orphanage he founded in 1993.
He is the first cleric in Timor-Leste to be tried in a civil court. His trial was held at the Oecusse District Court and many people, including public figures, supported him, despite the fact that he had confessed to his crimes.
Daschbach continues to enjoy support from the country’s social and political circles for his contributions and support to Timor-Leste’s struggle for independence from Indonesia.