Ryan Dagur, Jakarta – A Timor-Leste court has acquitted a priest and several of his staff over writing a report in favor of a defrocked priest jailed for sexually abusing young girls.
Father Herminio Fatima Goncalves, former chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission of Dili Archdiocese, and three of his staff were on trial after being accused of authoring the controversial report that made wild and false allegations against police prosecutors, journalists and NGOs involved in the prosecution of Richard Daschbach.
However, Dili District Court acquitted all four on March 4, ruling the report "was only for internal purposes and was not published."
Judge Evangelinho Belo said they had not violated Article 291 of the country's Criminal Code on judicial confidentiality, which carries a penalty of up to four years in prison. Prosecutors had demanded a one-year prison term for them.
The report, signed by Father Goncalves, appeared in 2020 and purportedly contained the results of an investigation into Daschbach's case, which was being processed in court.
Besides including personal information on the alleged victims, the report tried to shift all responsibility away from the American former Divine Word priest and blamed Timorese judicial and police officials and organizations supporting the victims.
Portuguese news agency Lusa, which made the report public, said victim support organizations were a network that acted in a "structured" way with the government, prosecutors, health sector and the police. It also claimed the police investigation was an organized child exploitation operation and that Daschbach was the victim of a "judicial mafia."
The report also claimed victims placed in protective custody were "abducted."
Father Goncalves claimed the report was an internal archdiocese document and not meant to be made public.
He also said he only sent two copies, one to Archbishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva of Dili and the other to former president and prime minister Xanana Gusmao, who said in court that he gave copies to several other people, including the lawyers representing the abuse victims.
When the contents of the report became public, the Dili archbishop sacked Father Goncalves and said it "does not reflect the opinion of the archbishop and exceeds the competence of the Justice and Peace Commission."
In later public statements during Daschbach's trial, the archbishop expressed support for the victims.
Daschbach, the first cleric in the Catholic-majority country to be prosecuted for child sex abuse, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Dec. 21 last year. He was convicted of sexually abusing and raping four victims aged under 12 at the Topu Honis orphanage he managed. He was also ordered to pay each victim US$4,000 in compensation.
Father Goncalves, who now works as a chaplain in St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish in Bedois on the outskirts of Dili, called his acquittal "the power of God's work."
"I also thank the judge in this case, who was impartial," the Suara Timor Lorosae newspaper quoted him as saying on March 5.