An American missionary who was a hero in Timor-Leste for founding children's shelters that have operated for more than two decades has been expelled from his Catholic congregation after admitting to sexual abuse of minors.
Media reports about the allegations have stunned the country, also known as East Timor, one of two predominantly Catholic nations in Asia along with the Philippines.
The bishop of Dili, Virgilio do Carmo da Silva, told reporters that American Richard Daschbach was expelled from the church last year and was no longer a priest.
Mr Daschbach was born in Pennsylvania and first came to East Timor in 1966 when it was a Portuguese colony.
He founded the Topu Honis or "Guide To Life" children's homes in Oe-Kusi Ambeno, an East Timorese enclave in the Indonesian-controlled western half of Timor, in 1992, and was also feted for saving children during East Timor's war for independence from Indonesia.
A family member of Mr Daschbach's in the US, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the missionary left Oe-Kusi Ambeno but later returned. East Timorese media reported he has been performing masses in the area.
"He admitted that the allegations against him are true," the family member said. "The priests took him away because of allegations of child abuse. He admitted that it was true. He has returned against their will."
The public defenders' office in Oe-Kusi Ambeno said it was aware of the scandal but there was no criminal case registered against him.
Jovito Rego de Jesus Araujo, the vicar for Dili, said Mr Daschbach's case was the first time sexual abuse of minors by a Catholic priest in East Timor had come to light.
"We never expected this from a man who dedicates himself to the people. He is like the father of that community, which he built, nourished and supported with all kind of help," Father Araujo told Catholic News Service.
"This is a real disaster, a drama. A very dramatic situation. An old man of 82 years being accused of pedophilia."
Mr Daschbach has not responded to requests for comment.
Mr Daschbach's two shelters cared for orphans and children and youth from impoverished families, disabled people and women who have fled domestic violence. Some of the hundreds of children who lived in the shelters went on to study at universities in Australia, the US and Indonesia.
While stories of abuse within the church have shocked Western populations in recent years, experts have said an abuse scandal to hit the church in Asia and Africa is a decade away. The Vatican will hold a child sexual abuse summit later this month. (ABC/AP)