Defrocked US priest revered in East Timor accused of abuse

It was the identical each night time. An inventory of names was posted on the Rev. Richard Daschbach’s bed room door. The baby on the prime of the roster knew it was her flip to share the decrease bunk with the aged priest and one other elementary school-aged woman.

Daschbach was idolized in the distant enclave of East Timor the place he lived, largely for his position in serving to save lives through the tiny nation’s bloody wrestle for independence. So, the ladies by no means spoke in regards to the abuse they suffered. They mentioned they had been afraid they might be banished from the shelter the 84-year-old from Pennsylvania established many years in the past for abused girls, orphans, and different destitute kids.

The horrors of what they mentioned occurred behind closed doorways over a interval of years is now being performed out in courtroom — the primary clergy intercourse case in a rustic that’s extra solidly Catholic than another place except for the Vatican. The trial was postponed final month as a result of a coronavirus lockdown, however is predicted to renew in May.

At least 15 females have come ahead, in response to JU,S Jurídico Social, a bunch of human rights legal professionals representing them. The Associated Press has spoken to a 3rd of the accusers, every recalling their experiences in vivid element. They will not be being recognized as a result of of fears of retribution.

They instructed AP Daschbach would sit on a chair each night time in the center of a room holding a bit woman, surrounded by a hoop of kids and employees members praying and singing hymns earlier than mattress.

“The way that you determine who sits on his lap is by the list that he’d have on his door,” one accuser mentioned. “And that meant that you were the little girl that was going to go with him.”

Later in his room, they mentioned Daschbach would strip all the way down to white boxer shorts and a T-shirt after which undress the ladies, giving them deodorant to placed on earlier than fondling them and quietly guiding their palms to the touch him. Then, they mentioned, there would typically be oral intercourse. One accuser additionally alleged she was raped.

He would generally ask the kids with him on the decrease bunk to modify locations with one or two others sleeping on the mattress above, they mentioned, including abuse additionally sometimes occurred throughout afternoon naps.

Daschbach faces as much as 20 years in jail if discovered responsible. He and his lawyer declined to be interviewed by the AP.

The church defrocked Daschbach in 2018, saying he had confessed to sexually abusing kids. But he maintains robust political ties and remains to be handled like a rock star by many, particularly on the Topu Honis shelter, which suggests “Guide to Life.”

Former President Xanana Gusmao attended the trial’s opening in February. A month earlier, the independence hero visited Daschbach on his birthday, hand-feeding cake to the previous priest and lifting a glass of wine to his lips, as cameras flashed.

Daschbach’s legal professionals haven’t made their authorized technique public, and courtroom proceedings are closed. But paperwork seen by AP point out that they’ll argue he’s the sufferer of a conspiracy.

In January, nonetheless, the previous priest seemed to be making ready his supporters for the worst. He instructed native reporters that his message to the kids who stay in the orphanage is that 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 son of a Pittsburgh steelworker, Daschbach started his spiritual research as an adolescent. In 1964, he was ordained by Divine Word Missionaries in Chicago, the Catholic church’s largest missionary congregation, with round 6,000 monks and brothers serving in greater than 80 nations.

When he arrived in Southeast Asia a number of years later, the nation now generally known as East Timor was underneath Portuguese management. That colonial rule would final till 1975 when the nation was virtually instantly invaded by neighboring Indonesia. A bloody, 24-year independence wrestle adopted, leaving as many as 200,000 individuals useless — 1 / 4 of the inhabitants — by preventing, famine, and hunger.

Daschbach began the shelter in 1992 and earned his status through the battle. He typically instructed guests about defending the ladies and kids dwelling in Topu Honis and surrounding areas, sheltering them in a cave, and main a ragtag group armed with spears to stave off attackers.

Stories in regards to the charismatic priest who joined in conventional dances with bells on his ankles, spoke native languages fluently, and gave mass the place he blended Catholicism with the realm’s customs and animist beliefs, unfold far past East Timor.

Foreign donors, vacationers, and help staff who made the three-hour hike up the steep, slender jungle path to Kutet village had been met by the grandfatherly priest who was typically surrounded by laughing children enjoying hopscotch in matching uniforms. In many images of Topu Honis taken by guests and posted on-line, younger ladies are seen by Daschbach’s aspect, on his lap, or along with his arm pulling their tiny shoulders towards him.

Some guests stayed on the mountain for weeks and even months, so impressed by what they noticed that they despatched tens of 1000’s of {dollars} to assist the shelter or pay for faculty scholarships.

Jan McColl, who helped fund Topu Honis, mentioned she was devastated after she and one other longtime Australian donor, Tony Hamilton, flew to East Timor and requested Daschbach point-blank whether or not he was a pedophile.

“He said, ‘Yes. That’s who I am. And always have been,’” mentioned McColl, including he responded calmly whereas persevering with to eat his lunch. “So, we just got up and left the table. We were just absolutely distraught.”

Hamilton mentioned the trade was jarring and surreal, and he has struggled to make sense of it whereas persevering with to assist some of the kids. He and McColl have given affidavits.

“I think in some crazy way, he recognizes that what he has done is a crime,” he mentioned. “But he reconciles it somehow with the good that he’s done.”


The world clergy intercourse abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church for greater than 20 years, has led to billions of {dollars} in settlements and the institution of new applications aimed toward stopping additional abuse. But specialists have seen a rising quantity of victims coming ahead in growing nations like Haiti, Kenya, and Bangladesh, the place monks and missionaries deployed by spiritual orders typically function with little or no oversight. Even in the event that they’re caught, they not often face penalties. For some, the thought of ever jailing a priest, irrespective of the crime, appears blasphemous.

Many supporters in East Timor insist the accusations towards Daschbach are lies and half of a much bigger plot to take over the shelter and different property, together with a beachside boarding faculty. After the trial’s opening, dozens of principally girls and kids waited outdoors the courtroom, wailing because the ex-priest waved goodbye to them from a car.

“Law enforcers must see which one is better: Omitting one person or eliminating the future of many?” mentioned native resident Antonio Molo, one of the doubters, who worries that a whole bunch of kids might lose an opportunity at a greater life if Daschbach is gone.

Though the Vatican acted swiftly to analyze and take away the priest when accusations had been leveled three years in the past, the native archdiocese was extra accommodating.

It agreed to lodge him underneath casual home arrest at a church residence in the city of Maliana. But Daschbach nonetheless moved round with relative ease, together with taking an in a single day ferry to Oecusse enclave the place he returned to the kids’s house, infuriating accusers and their households. Despite being stripped of his priestly duties, native media reported he continued to carry out mass whereas there.

Monsignor Marco Sprizzi, Vatican ambassador to East Timor, pressured that Daschbach shouldn’t be allowed to be amongst kids, however mentioned there’s little the church can do now.

“Once he’s defrocked … he’s no more a priest. He is no part of the clergy,” he mentioned. “And, of course, that house for children was not — since the beginning — was not belonging to his religious congregation. He did it by himself, and it was in his own name.”

Zach Hiner, govt director of the U.S.-based Survivors Network of these Abused by Priests, or SNAP, mentioned the church had an ethical accountability to do extra and may have recalled Daschbach to the U.S. earlier than laicizing him.

“We fear for the vulnerable children that he may still have access to,” he mentioned.

But Daschbach nonetheless has robust assist inside factions of the church, regionally.

Late final year, the Archbishop of Dili sacked the president of the church’s “Justice and Peace Commission” and publicly apologized following the publication of a report naming the victims and implying prosecutors, police, and NGOs investigating the allegations had sexually abused the accusers, themselves, by finishing up forensic exams. The report additionally alleged human trafficking, referring to seven accusers who had been moved to a protected home.

Former donors and the accusers had been outraged, saying the report put the lives of those that got here ahead in hazard. Threats of violence have been made towards anybody who speaks out towards Daschbach.

The ex-priest faces 14 counts of baby sexual abuse, one depend of baby pornography and one depend of home violence. He additionally is needed in the U.S. for 3 counts of wire fraud linked to 1 of his California-based donors, which accused him in a courtroom case of violating an settlement to guard these underneath his care. An Interpol Red Notice has been issued internationally for his arrest.

The accusers who spoke to AP described systematic abuse and inappropriate conduct, together with Daschbach commonly overseeing the ladies’ showers. They mentioned all of the kids eliminated their garments and stood collectively round a big concrete water basin outdoors, with the nude priest going from woman to woman shampooing their hair and splashing water on their non-public components. They mentioned he additionally took photographs of them bare as they performed in the rain, and that some ladies had been instructed he didn’t need them to put on underwear.

His accusers mentioned they had been crammed with hope once they arrived on the shelter. For the primary time, they, together with many others, had clear garments, time to play, and an emphasis on faculty. Most importantly, that they had meals. The meals had been primary however regular.

The adoration and respect for the white American missionary was so commanding, the accusers mentioned they did no matter he wished with out question.

One recalled first arriving on the shelter nonetheless distraught after her father had died and mentioned the priest raped her that very same night time. She mentioned he continued to take action regularly your entire time she was there.

She mentioned he would lock the door and pull the curtains, telling her they needed to be cautious and that nobody may know. She mentioned he sometimes selected younger kids, however for these like her who had been nearing puberty, Daschbach exercised warning.

“He would pull out and say, ‘I have to stop, otherwise you’ll be pregnant,’” she mentioned.

Now, accusers say they wrestle to course of how somebody who appeared so form and selfless may ask them to do issues that felt so unsuitable.

“When I was getting abused, I was like, ‘Is this sort of like the payment?’” one accuser mentioned. “That’s what I was computing in my head … ‘this must be the price that I have to pay to be a part of this.’ You know, like those shiny little dresses that these girls are wearing to church. That’s not free. This is the price tag.”

Associated Press reporter Raimundos Oki contributed to this report from East Timor.

Contact AP’s world investigative staff at [email protected]

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