The trial in East Timor of Richard Daschbach, a US former priest accused of child abuse, which had been due to resume next Monday at a court in the exclave of of Oecusse, has been postponed until 24 May, a senior judicial source has told Lusa.
The president of the Court of Appeal, Deolindo dos Santos, confirmed the postponement to Lusa, explaining that it had been requested by defence lawyers, citing constraints due to the health cordon set up in the country’s capital, where Daschbach is under house arrest.
The rules of the health cordon require anyone who wants to travel to present a negative result of a tests for the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, and that holding the trial required the travel to Oecusse of one of the judges of the panel, the translator, several lawyers involved, members of the public prosecutor’s office and other parties.
“An application was made by the defence of the accused to the Oecusse Court which notified the Public Prosecution to respond,” dos Santos said. “The Court received this response and issued an order to postpone it to 24 May.”
Daschbach’s trial on charges of child abuse, child pornography and domestic violence, which is closed to the public, began in February. Two further sessions had so far been scheduled, on 22 and 23 March.
The Vatican has already expelled Daschbach from the Society of the Divine Word (SVD, from the Latin: Societas Verbi Divini) congregation and defrocked him for his “committed and admitted abuse of minors” at the Topu Honis orphanage in Oecusse.
“SVD Timor-Leste wants to emphatically reiterate that based on the heinous committed and admitted crime of child abuse at the Topu Honis orphanage, Mr Richard Daschbach was expelled, after an ecclesiastical penal process, from the religious and clerical state by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican on 6 November 2018,” the SVD said in a recent statement.
Dos Santos explained to Lusa that given the spread of the coronavirus and with health cordons in place, court officials are working to “enable trials to take place at a distance”, for example with the use of video conferencing.
“It is necessary to allow trials to continue and our technicians are working to resolve this quickly,” he said. “It is a concern to allow trials to continue, especially in urgent and important cases.”
The courts, he recalled, have been planning to step up digitisation since 2019, with the process so far constrained by the lack of a state budget for most of 2020, in addition to the constraints imposed by the pandemic.
“We have not yet been able to implement these plans, which require equipment, recording systems and so on,” he said. “This year we have budget planned and approved and we will see if we can get those devices.”