An American pastor accused of abusing children under the age of 14 at a home for underprivileged young people he founded and ran.

The trial of a defrocked American priest accused of sexually abusing young girls at his shelter for orphans and children from poor families in East Timor began on Tuesday.

Richard Daschbach, 84, former missionary from Pennsylvania, faces 14 counts of sexual abuse of children under 14, as well as one count of child pornography and domestic violence, Attorney General says . He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

It is the first case of clergy sexual abuse to emerge in this Southeast Asian country of about three million people, where 97% of the population is Catholic.

Around 100 Daschbach supporters showed up but were denied access to the courtroom for the closed-door proceedings, which has been heavily divided by the country. The case has pitted families and politicians against each other, with tensions so high that accusers fear being targeted with violence if publicly identified.

Former President Xanana Gusmao was briefly present in the courtroom with Daschbach on Tuesday. The former revolutionary leader is still powerful in the country and some – including his own children – have questioned why he was publicly supporting a man accused of child abuse.

At least 15 accusers

The alleged abuse took place for years at Topu Honis, a children’s home that Daschbach founded and managed, taking in hundreds of disadvantaged youth, providing them with food, clothing, shelter and education.

At least 15 women have since come forward, according to JU, S Jurídico Social, a group of human rights lawyers representing the accusers. But foreign donors who once supported Daschbach believe there are likely many more casualties – perhaps hundreds.

An official with the Catholic church in East Timor’s capital, Dili, told The Associated Press that Daschbach was defrocked in 2018 after confessing to sexually abusing children.

About 97% of the population of East Timor is Catholic [Beawiharts/Reuters]

The accusers have alleged everything from fondling and oral sex to rape. Former donors have also said he admitted them.

Last month, the former priest told local reporters his message to the children at the orphanage was: “Be patient. We will not see each other again because I will be held for life, but I will still remember you and you must be happy there.

Daschbach, who also got US funding, is also wanted in the US on three counts of wire fraud. An Interpol Red Notice has been issued for his arrest.





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