Australian sponsor of Topu Honis tells howpriest admitted sexual abuse Featured

Reporter Tjitske Lingsma condutor skype interview with Tony. Reporter Tjitske Lingsma condutor skype interview with Tony.

By José Belo and Tjitske Lingsma

Like other foreign donors Tony Hamilton and his wife wholeheartedly supported the Topu Honis shelter in Timor-Leste. Until they heard that the priest who ran the orphanage, had sexually abused girls. In an interview Tony Hamilton tells Tempo Timor about his support for the shelter, the betrayal, the priest’s confession and the decision to end donations. 

A year ago Tony Hamilton received the disturbing news that the priest he once trusted and respected, was accused ofsexually abusing girls in the shelter in Timor-Leste that the Australian entrepreneur had generously supported with tens of thousands of dollars. ‘It is the most confrontational situation of my life. It has deeply affected me emotionally,’ says Hamilton, in a Skype interview on Thursday 7 February 2019. Richard Daschbach, an American priest who founded TopuHonis Shelter Home in 1992 to serve orphans, disadvantaged children and abused women in Timor-Leste’s enclave Oecusse, was last November laicized by the Vatican because of sexual crimes committed against minors.

Donations

How different were things back in 2014 when Hamilton first contacted Daschbach to see how he could support Topu Honis, which has a shelter for young children in the remote mountainhamlet of Kutet and another for teenagers in the coastal area of Mahata in Oecusse. ‘Beforehand I had checked Richard very thoroughly, and everybody spoke with utmost respectabout him,’ says Hamilton (59), a man with a long greyish beard and moustache, wearing glasses. ‘I am not wealthy, but I wanted to make a contribution. I wanted to make a difference.’

Hamilton and his wife decided to support the shelter with 250 AUD$ per month. A year later, in April 2015, the couplevisited Topu Honis. When they saw the food problems, theyincreased their monthly donation to 1000 AUD$. In 2017,when Topu Honis no longer received free rice, the amount went up to 2000 AUD$. ‘There was a degree of governance. Daschbach reported every six months over finance. We were comfortable with that,’ he says. Apart from the regular contributions, the couple donated another 10.000 AUD$. Active fundraising brought in 40.000 AUD$. A substantial number of other Australians and Americans have also been donating, partly through Tradewinds and One World Children’s Fund. Over the years a whole range of academics, journalists, NGO’s as well as Timorese leaders such as current prime minister Taur Matan Ruak met with Daschbach and visited his shelter. In February 2018 – in the same month that the sexual abuse was reported to the Catholic Church – TopuHonis received 104.000 USD$, says Hamilton (9.000 US$ from Hamilton; 95.000 US$ from another organisation). 

Apart from donations to the shelter, supporters like Hamilton also gave money for individual scholarships so children from Topu Honis could pursue post-secondary education (2000 US$ a year). Foreign volunteers also helped by workingtemporarily at the shelter. Several children were, after lengthy court processes, officially adopted by foreigners, such as anAustralian policewoman who adopted a young girl from Kutet.

‘He was a great humanitarian and a great communicator,’ says Hamilton about Daschbach. ‘I respected and liked him a lot. But I never suspected that he was a paedophile,’ he adds with a choked voice.

Sexual abuse

In March 2018 Hamilton received a phone call from anotherTopu Honis supporter that the congregation Societas VerbiDivini (SVD, Society of the Divine Word), to whichDaschbach belonged, had taken the priest to their regional headquarters in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. In emailsDaschbach explained to Hamilton it was for ‘semi-retirement.’But the Australian entrepreneur decided to see for himself. On 15 April 2018 Hamilton and a co-donor flew from Australia to Dili, where Dachbach, two Topu Honis board members andsix other women were waiting for them at the airport. Atdinner they discussed changes in financial managementdonors were demanding. The following day the two Australian sponsors confronted Daschbach with the allegations that the priest had sexually abused young girls in Kutet. To Hamilton’s surprise Daschbach confessed saying: ‘Yes. Everything I am accused of is true. This is who I am. I have always been this way.’ The answer baffled Hamilton. ‘I went to Dili expecting him to deny. But we got an absolute confirmation that he wasa paedophile and that he had always been a paedophile,’ says Hamilton showing the black notebook in which he kept notes during those days in Dili.

After initially denying the abuse to the current director of Topu Honis, Lili Tarung, Daschbach also admitted his crimes to her. ‘He said that he had molested girls in Kutet and that he always had done it,’ says Hamilton. After hearing those words,the Australian sponsor couldn’t take it anymore. ‘Honestly, I was disturbed, to put it mildly. I could not deal with the conversation and left.’ He returned some 20 minutes later.‘Then I said to him: “Richard: you are evil.” And he replied: “Yes I am”.’

Over the years some 600 children stayed in Topu Honis. Hamilton fears of what happened to young girls who lived in the orphanage in Kutet. ‘He abused three generations of children,’ states Hamilton. ‘Trust has been destroyed.’

(Tempo Timor contacted Daschbach for comment, but was unable to reach him.)

Affidavit

Hamilton doesn’t know how far the Timorese prosecutor and police are with their investigations, but he points out that last year sponsors of Topu Honis in Australia informed the Australian Federal Police about the case. In the meantime Hamilton has asked his lawyer to take his statement about the confessions Daschbach made to him, for use as evidence in a future legal case. The affidavit will be sent this week to the court in East Timor. If necessary, Hamilton will testify against the priest.

Last June Hamilton and his wife went to Topu Honis to see how they could help. ‘The staff and children are wonderful. It was great.’ At that time Daschbach was still grounded in Dili being investigated by the church. But in August the priest suddenly resigned from the congregation and returned to Kutet, where he allegedly committed his crimes. In November the Vatican took the decision to laicise Daschbach, which means he is stripped of his priesthood rights.

Hamilton says SVD and the Catholic Church acted swiftly after the allegations against Daschbach in 2018, starting their own investigations and penal process, and taking him to the police. ‘But I am disappointed about their complete lack of empathy. There are no signs that they are prepared to support that community in Oecusse, while that’s where it should go,’the Australian sponsor states.

He doesn’t understand why the Timorese authorities allow Daschbach to walk free in Oecusse while as a foreigner he isjust ‘a guest’ of Timor-Leste. ‘Believe me, I have contacted every possible figure to get this guy removed from his community,’ says Hamilton.

Donations stopped

Foreign donors like Hamilton are continuing to pay for individual scholarships for children of Topu Honis. But they have halted their monetary donations to the shelter, which means funds are drying up. Hamilton: ‘As long as Daschbachis there and governance is not improved, no one will fund Topu Honis.’

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Last modified on Monday, 11 February 2019 09:05
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