Former President Xanana Gusmao, himself a revered revolutionary fighter, was briefly present in the courtroom with Daschbach on Tuesday. The former leader is still very powerful in the country, and some — including his own children — have questioned why he is publicly supporting a man accused of abusing children.
The alleged abuse occurred for years at Topu Honis, a children’s home that Daschbach founded and ran, taking in hundreds of disadvantaged youth, providing them with food, clothing, shelter and schooling.
At least 15 females have since come forward, according to JU,S Jurídico Social, a group of human rights lawyers representing the accusers. But foreign donors who once supported Daschbach believe that there are likely many more victims — possibly hundreds.
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 female accusers have alleged everything from fondling and oral sex to rape. Former donors also said he admitted it to them. While the former priest has not done so publicly, last month he told local reporters that his message to the children in the orphanage is this: “Be patient. We won’t meet again because I will be detained for life, but I will still remember you and you have to be happy there.”
The trial was initially scheduled to start on Monday, but judges asked for a one-day delay so they could revise documents.
Daschbach, who also secured American funding, is wanted in the U.S. on three counts of wire fraud. An Interpol Red Notice has been issued for his arrest.
After prosecutors read out the charges against Daschbach and the defense responded Tuesday, the panel of judges adjourned the trial until March 22, when witnesses from both sides are to be presented to testify.
Prosecutors and Daschbach’s lawyers made no comments to the media.
A police officer escorts Richard Daschbach, left, a former missionary from Pennsylvania, U.S. upon his arrival for a trial at a courthouse in Oecusse, East Timor, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. The defrocked American priest went on trial Tuesday to face charges he sexually abused young girls at his shelter for orphans and children from impoverished families, marking the first clergy sex case to emerge in East Timor, the most Catholic place in the world outside the Vatican. (AP Photo/Raimundos Oki)
Credit: Raimundos Oki
Credit: Raimundos Oki
A police officer escorts Richard Daschbach, center, a former missionary from Pennsylvania, U.S. upon his arrival for a trial at a courthouse in Oecusse, East Timor, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The defrocked American priest was set to go on trial Monday to face 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. (AP Photo)