Ex-Priest Who Operated East Timor Children's Shelter Indicted for Sexual Abuse of Minors

A former Catholic priest was indicted this week by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., for the alleged sexual abuse of children at a "shelter home" he founded abroad.

Richard Daschbach, 84, was on Thursday charged with seven counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor. Daschbach, a U.S. citizen, was originally from Pennsylvania but has resided in what is now known as Timor-Leste for more than 50 years. He founded the Topu Honis shelter in 1992. Since 2018, at least 15 of his alleged victims have accused him of sexually abusing them while they were children residing at the shelter.

Daschbach was defrocked by the Vatican in 2018 after allegedly admitting to molesting children. The former priest is currently facing trial in Timor-Leste on charges of sexually abusing multiple girls under the age of 14 and could face 20 years in prison if convicted. In 2019, he was charged in the U.S. on three related counts of wire fraud, charges that carry maximum sentences of 20 years each. Each of the seven counts in Friday's U.S. indictment carries sentences of up to 30 years.

"This case shows that we will use the full extent of the law to prosecute U.S. citizens who allegedly prey on children, no matter how far we must go to bring them to justice," acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips for the District of Columbia said in a statement. "Together with our law enforcement partners, we must ensure that people placed in positions of trust do not betray their responsibilities to help the children who depend upon them."

Richard Daschbach Child Sex Abuse Catholic Timor-Leste
Former Catholic Priest Richard Daschbach was indicted in the U.S. for allegedly sexually abusing minors abroad on Thursday. Daschbach is pictured above during his trial on similar charges in Dili, Timor-Leste, on June 9, 2021. VALENTINO DARIEL SOUSA/AFP/Getty

"This indictment represents a significant step toward accountability for harms suffered by multiple vulnerable children allegedly victimized by this defendant," added Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Criminal Division.

Five of Daschbach's accusers, who each remained anonymous over fears that they could face retribution, in April told the Associated Press that the former priest's abuse was typically preceded by a nightly ritual where he would single out one young girl to sit on his lap while surrounded by other children and shelter staff who were praying and singing hymns.

At the end of the ritual, Daschbach would allegedly take the chosen girl with him into his room, where he would strip into boxer shorts and a t-shirt before undressing and molesting or raping the girl. One of his alleged victims said that she had trouble reconciling the abuse she experienced with the fact that Daschbach was respected and beloved in heavily Catholic Timor-Leste.

"When I was getting abused, I was like, 'Is this sort of like the payment?'" the accuser told the AP. "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."

Court documents reviewed by the AP reportedly indicated that Daschbach's defense in the Timor-Leste trial is centered on a claim that he is the victim of a conspiracy. The outlet also interviewed foreign donors who helped fund the Topu Honis shelter, two of whom alleged that Daschbach non-clamantly admitted to being a pedophile when asked during a face-to-face meeting.

Newsweek reached out to the DOJ for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.