An international group advocating human rights in Timor-Leste, of which a UK pedophile priest was a supporter, has taken down an appeal for financial support he had set up for the group following his conviction for child sex abuse last week.
"We are shocked and embarrassed that a member of the international Timor-Leste solidarity movement has committed such crimes," John Miller, coordinator of East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), said in an April 12 statement.
"ETAN strongly condemns all forms of sexual abuse and expresses our continuing solidarity with the victims of sexual abuse around the world."
Father Patrick Smythe, 79, was convicted and jailed for seven and a half years on April 7 by a court in Leeds in the United Kingdom for sex offenses against boys in his care.
He preyed on boys during swimming trips to Leeds in the 1970s and 1980s. He also targeted boys in his care while on a retreat at a hostel in North Yorkshire.
When questioned by police, he admitted having visited Timor-Leste over a period of 10 years "sponsoring people in the country" and having contact with children of a similar age to his victims in the UK.
ETAN said it feared "Father Smythe may also have abused Timorese children, although no one has yet come forward with accusations about his behavior in Timor-Leste."
Father Smythe is the author of "The Heaviest Blow – The Catholic Church and the East Timor Issue", a book published in 2004. He regularly visited Southeast Asia's youngest country while writing the book.
He was also a supporter of ETAN and set up a fundraising appeal on the group's website in 2016.
Since learning of Father Smythe's conviction, the group has taken down the appeal and "will make a financial contribution to an organization working to support victims of sexual abuse."
"ETAN had no inkling that Father Smythe had abused children. If we had, we would not have worked with him or accepted his support," ETAN board president Rev. Elice Higginbotham said. "Charity and acts of solidarity cannot be used as veils for criminal abuse."
The group also asked anyone in Timor-Leste with information about possible abuse committed by the priest to contact the Timor-Leste Office of Public Prosecution JU,S Juridico Social or ALFeLa. Both are advocacy groups for women and child victims of violence.
"We know how difficult it is for victims of child sexual abuse to speak out anywhere, especially against a respected leader in the community. We stand with the courageous survivors whose witness helps to stop sexual abuse and build a safer future for everyone," said ETAN board member Pam Sexton.
In Timor-Leste there has only been one case of sexual abuse by a priest brought before a civilian court. American missionary priest Richard Dascbach, 84, was jailed for 12 years last December for abusing girls in an orphanage he founded.