Ryan Dagur, Jakarta – The Covid-19 pandemic has forced a district court in Timor-Leste to postpone the resumption of a trial of an ex-priest accused of sexually abusing children for the third time.
The trial of Richard Daschbach, 84, an American national and former Divine Word priest, was originally scheduled to resume on May 24 in a court in Oecusse, Timor-Leste's small coastal enclave surrounded on three sides by Indonesia, located 200 kilometers west of the capital Dili.
Julio Nunes, the court secretary, said Daschbach, his lawyer and a prosecutor failed to appear in court. "The trial was supposed to start at 9am but they didn't show up," he told UCA News. He said the judge decided to reschedule the hearing to June 7.
The absence of the key players in the trial was due to a lockdown imposed in Dili to curb the spread of Covid-19 which prevented them from leaving for Oecusse, Nunes said. The country has so far recorded 5,637 cases in total and 13 deaths.
The victims have been waiting a long time to testify and even had to quarantine for 14 days to prepare for this. Nunes said other cases being heard at the court continued as usual.
When asked why the court did not try the ex-priest via video link, Nunes replied: "We've never tried using video link because there are no facilities for that."
It was the third time Daschbach's trial had been postponed since the trial began in February. The court was due to hear the testimony of at least three victims on May 24.
A source close to the victims said the court was not being fair on them by delaying proceedings further.
"The victims have been waiting a long time to testify and even had to quarantine for 14 days to prepare for this," the source said.
Daschbach, who is under house arrest in Dili, is charged with child abuse, child pornography and domestic violence and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
He has also been placed on Interpol's red notice list as he faces wire fraud charges in the United States.
Daschbach was dismissed by the Vatican in 2018 after he confessed to abusing children at the Oecusse-based Topu Honis children's shelter which he founded in 1993.
Although he has confessed to being a pedophile, he still has broad support, including among the country's political leaders, who credit him with helping Timor-Leste's struggle for independence from Indonesia.
The bishops' conference and the Divine Word superior in Timor-Leste have issued statements confirming that the Vatican's decision to defrock Daschbach was based on solid evidence in response to rumors claiming he could be reinstalled as a priest if he is found not guilty.
He is the first priest in the predominantly Catholic country to be tried in a civil court.