A federal grand jury has indicted a defrocked American priest on charges of having sex with minors while running a children’s shelter in a remote part of East Timor.
Richard Daschbach, 84, faces seven counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct at the Topu Honis shelter that he founded decades ago in the mountains of the predominantly Catholic island country south of Indonesia. A Department of Justice spokesperson said Monday she could not comment on whether there are plans to extradite the former priest who is currently on trial in East Timor for the same allegations.
If convicted in the U.S., Daschbach could receive up to 30 years in prison for each count, according to the indictment returned Thursday by a grand jury in Washington, D.C.
He also is wanted in the U.S. for three counts of wire fraud linked to one of his California-based donors, which accused him in a court case of violating an agreement to protect those under his care. An Interpol Red Notice has been issued internationally for his arrest.
Daschbach, who remains revered by many in East Timor, went on trial there in February to face charges he sexually abused young girls in his care at the shelter for orphans and impoverished children. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
The trial, which is closed to the public, was delayed several times until resuming in July. It marks the first clergy sex abuse case in the place with the highest percentage of Catholics outside the Vatican.
Daschbach’s lawyers in East Timor have not made their legal strategy public, and court proceedings are closed. But documents seen by The Associated Press indicated they would argue he was the victim of a conspiracy.
He and his lawyer have in the past declined to be interviewed by The AP.
The church defrocked Daschbach in 2018, saying he had confessed to sexually abusing children, but he maintains strong alliances. Former President Xanana Gusmao, revered as a freedom fighter, has openly supported Daschbach by going to court with him. Daschbach, himself, is hailed for his role in saving lives during the tiny nation’s bloody struggle for independence from Indonesia.
Daschbach, the son of a Pittsburgh steelworker, started Topu Honis in 1992 in the remote enclave of Oecusse. Foreign donors, tourists and others often visited and helped support the shelter.