The trial of Richard Daschbach, a US-born former priest accused of sexually abusing children in Timor-Leste, is now due to resume in May. (Photo supplied)
A court in Timor-Leste has been forced to postpone resuming the sexual abuse trial of an American former priest due to the imposition of a lockdown following a surge in Covid-19 infections in the tiny predominantly Catholic country.
The trial of Richard Daschbach, 84, was originally scheduled to resume on March 22.
"With the lockdown, the court has had to postpone further hearings because there is no means of transportation either by air or sea," said Julio Nunes, secretary of the District Court in Oecusse, a small coastal enclave of Timor-Leste surrounded on three sides by Indonesia and located 200 kilometers west of the capital Dili.
As a result, not everyone can get to the court in Oecusse as many of those involved in the trial, including the defendant, are in Dili, he told UCA News on March 21.
Timor-Leste government has imposed lockdowns in the cities of Dili, Baucau and Viqueque following a surge in Covid-19 cases over the past two weeks.
On March 21, Rui Maria de Araujo, a former prime minister and now the coordinator of anti-Covid-19 efforts, reported an additional 55 new cases, of which 45 were in Dili, 11 in Baucau and 1 in Viqueque.
It was the highest increase in cases recorded in a day since the pandemic began.
Nunes said they had tentatively rescheduled Daschbach’s next hearing for between May 24-28.
"It will depend on the Covid-19 situation at the time," he said, adding that they have not planned to hold the trial remotely.
Daschbach, an American former Divine Word missionary faces 14 charges of sexually abusing children aged under 14, possessing child pornography and domestic violence.
The abuses were reported to have occurred at the Topu Honis Shelter, which he founded in 1993 in Oecusse.
If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
Daschbach, who was dismissed from the priesthood by the Vatican in 2018, also faces wire fraud charges in his homeland in the US, where he has been placed on Interpol's red notice list.
His case has received widespread attention in the predominantly Catholic country, and he is the first clergyman to be tried in a civilian court.
Although Daschbach has admitted being a pedophile, he still enjoys widespread support, including from the country's civilian leaders, which are attributed to his contribution to assisting Timor-Leste's struggle for independence from Indonesia.
There were rumors on social media that he could be reinstated as a priest if he is found not guilty.
Responding to these rumors, both the bishops' conference and the superior of the Society of the Divine Word congregation in Timor-Leste have asserted that the Vatican’s decision to dismiss Daschbach was made based on a long and in-depth probe.