Since April the suspect stayed in the SVD residence in Maliana where he lived under an arrangement which was labelled as ‘house arrest’ by the church. But recently R.D. changed his mind. ‘He told me that he doesn’t want to hide out here,’ father Lazarus Mau explained.
On Monday (11 November) the ex-priest went to the police in Maliana and asked to be detained. But the police told him that his case falls under Oecussi. The suspect then decided to travel to the enclave. Ms. Liliane ‘Lily’ Tarung, the current director of the Topu Honis shelter where the sexual abuse was committed, came to fetch him in Maliana on Tuesday morning (12 November). They immediately travelled to Dili, where R.D. took the ferry that same afternoon. When he arrived in Oecussi early Wednesday morning (13 November), the police was ready in the port to arrest him and take him to the police station.
Former priest R.D., is originally from the USA and is now 82 years old. He founded the Topu Honis shelter in Oecusse in 1991 and lived in its orphanage in the hamlet of Kutet for almost three decades. Over the years hundreds of children stayed in the institution. In March 2018 a complaint accusing R.D. of sexually abusing young girls under his care was sent to his congregation Societas Verbi Divini (SVD). In November 2018 the Vatican found him guilty of sexual crimes against minors and dismissed him as a priest. Sources say the sexual abuse at Topu Honis was systematic with R.D. allegedly abusing every single young girl in the shelter in Kutet at least once, molesting vulnerable children for many years.
Last April the Timorese police arrested the former priest for the first time. His passport was confiscated. ‘He should be in prison,’ said father Lazarus Mau. However, R.D. was not detained. The prosecution and the church arranged that the ex-priest would stay in the SVD residence in Maliana because of his old age and his contributions to Timor-Leste. ‘This is a quiet and secure place for him. I am old and he is old. Two old men,’ said father Lazarus Mau, who is 69 years old, during an earlier interview on 17 September 2019 with Tempo Timor. Being the SVD head in Maliana he was responsible for controlling the suspect. ‘If he goes to the market, he is accompanied by a brother who goes with him,’ father Lazarus Mau said. ‘I decide whether a person can visit him or not,’ he explained, adding that ‘generally it is okay if it is students or staff from Oecussi who want to see him.’ Also current Topu Honis director Lily Tarung would come to Maliana, although R.D. would meet her outside the SVD house. A picture on Instagram showed the suspect in a corner in a restaurant in Maliana using a laptop, while Tarung was with him enjoying a beer.
Tarung refuses to believe the allegations against her former boss. Even though she was present when R.D. admitted his crimes in 2018 to the Australian donor Tony Hamilton, who used to financially support the shelter. ‘He said that he had molested girls in Kutet and that he always had done it,’ stated Hamilton in an earlier interview with Tempo Timor. Sources close to the case say that a criminal complaint has been launched against Topu Honis director Tarung for failing to protect the children she has to care for.
When R.D. was arrested in April, Tarung incited men to attack a woman who used to live in the orphanage as a child, and whom she suspected of having given a statement against the priest to the judicial authorities. The woman was beaten up and was slightly wounded. Tarung was detained briefly. But the violence increased the fear among (former) Topu Honis residents that if they talk, they can be attacked. The oppression of staff and residents, including withholding them crucial information about the case, is continuing.