Timor-Leste Bishops’ Conference President Bishop Dom Norberto do Amaral of Maliana (left), Cardinal Dom Virgílio do Carmo da Silva of Dili and Bishop of Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau are seen during a meeting with Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak in 2018. (Photo: Facebook)
Catholic bishops in Timor-Leste have made public the church’s guidelines for the prevention and handling of sexual abuse cases of children and vulnerable adults, shortly after a media report accused Nobel-laureate former Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo of abusing young boys.
Sources within the church told UCA News that the guidelines were approved by the Vatican last year, but until now have only been disseminated within the church circle in the Catholic-majority country.
UCA News obtained the 75-page document on Oct. 3. It was signed by Timorese Bishops’ Conference (CET) President Bishop Dom Norberto do Amaral of Maliana, late Bishop of Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau and Cardinal Dom Virgílio do Carmo da Silva of Dili.
The document states that the Catholic Church unequivocally and clearly opposes the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.
The guidelines include, among other things, a form providing details that need to be reported in cases of clerical abuse. It is mandatory that the documentation relating to the case be sent to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In terms of prevention, the document wants seminary officials to have an in-depth knowledge of priesthood candidates. It also asks to take “particular care" in admitting candidates to seminaries and other houses of formation.
The document states that the CET has a mission "to promote, in an effective and concrete way, a healthy and safe environment for all, but especially for the youngest, the most vulnerable, and those most in need of care and protection".
The publication of the guideline came after Dutch newspaper De Groene Amsterdammer (The Green Amsterdammer) published a report on Sept. 28 accusing 74-year Bishop Belo of sexually abusing young boys and buying their silence for over 20 years.
Shortly after the report was published, Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni told the press that the Vatican received reports about Bishop Belo in 2019 and imposed sanctions on him in 2020 September.
Monsignor Marco Sprizzi, the Vatican's representative in Timor-Leste, told UCA News that the guidelines were approved by the Holy See last October and confirmed in December.
He, however, denied the guidelines only came in reaction to Bishop Belo's case.
He said it has been disseminated within the church since last year, but it has received wider publicity now.
Cardinal Da Silva of Dili did not respond to questions of UCA News on the guidelines and the steps taken by CET against Bishop Belo in line with the church’s abuse guidelines.
He, however, sent a communique published by CET stating that CET "will respect and cooperate with the judicial process."
“Until now, in Timor-Leste and in the Catholic Church, the principle of 'presumption of innocence" still applies (article 34.1 of the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste), so the CET has not been able to take a stand on the case,” it said.
The communique also explained that so far the Ecclesiastical Authority in Timor-Leste has not received any report against Bishop Belo.
In the Catholic-majority nation of about 1.3 million, only one case of sexual abuse by clergy made it to a court trial.
American missionary priest Richard Dascbach, 84, was jailed for 12 years last December for abusing girls in an orphanage he founded.
A source close to Daschbach's case expressed hope that the Church would “swiftly work with local authorities to ensure that criminal charges are brought against him [Bishop Belo] if that is the wish of the survivors of his abuse.”
“We are sending our love and support to the brave survivors who told their stories,” the source said.