Missionary Revered in Catholic Nation Is Headed to Prison

American ex-priest Richard Daschbach, 84, found guilty in East Timor of sexually abusing young girls
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 21, 2021 10:50 AM CST
Ex-Priest From Pa. Found Guilty of Sex Abuse Abroad
Richard Daschbach, a former missionary from Pennsylvania, is escorted by a police officer upon his arrival for a trial at a courthouse in Oecusse, East Timor, on Feb. 23, 2021.   (AP Photo/Raimundos Oki, File)

(Newser) – A defrocked American priest accused of sexually abusing orphaned and disadvantaged young girls under his care in East Timor was found guilty Tuesday and sentenced to 12 years in prison, in the first case of its kind in the staunchly Catholic nation. Richard Daschbach, 84, who spent decades as a missionary in the country's remote enclave of Oecusse, faced charges of child sexual abuse, as well as child pornography and domestic violence, per the AP. The trial began in February but was postponed several times before concluding last month. During the proceedings, victims complained about threats and online attacks.

Daschbach maintains strong backing from some, including former President Xanana Gusmao. East Timor is the most Catholic place outside of the Vatican, and Daschbach is revered for his role during the tiny Southeast Asian nation's fight for independence. Dozens of Daschbach's supporters, including several children brought by Gusmao, wept and some were screaming as it became clear the court would sentence the former priest to jail. Some in the impoverished enclave revere Daschbach so highly that they believe he possesses special powers and is the victim of a conspiracy.

Daschbach, the son of a Pittsburgh steelworker, was ordained in 1964 by the Society of the Divine Word. He arrived in the country now known as East Timor several years later, setting up a shelter in the 1990s named Topu Honis, which means "Guide to Life." Hundreds of children passed through the shelter under Daschbach's care. More than a dozen females came forward with abuse claims, but only nine were registered in the case due to legal technicalities. The AP spoke with five of the accusers, and they recalled their experiences in vivid detail, saying Daschbach kept a list of young girls on his bedroom door and that every night one of those girls would sit on his lap, surrounded by a ring of children and staff members praying and singing hymns before bed.

They said the girl on his lap would then sleep with him that night and that various types of abuse—from oral sex to rape—would occur, sometimes involving other children. The accusers haven't been identified because of fears of retribution. Separately, a US federal grand jury in Washington, DC, indicted Daschbach in August. He faces seven counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct at the shelter. If convicted in the US, Daschbach could receive up to 30 years in prison for each count, but the DOJ hasn't said whether it plans to try to extradite the ex-priest. Daschbach also is wanted in the US on three counts of wire fraud linked to one of his California-based donors. Daschbach's legal team says they plan to appeal the verdict in East Timor.

(Read more East Timor stories.)

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