Tempo Timor (Dili) - This morning judge Eusebio Xavier Vitor decided that an ex-priest R.D.is sent to Dili main prison in Becora for preventive detention. R.D., who originally is from the United States, has been accused of sexually abusing children in the shelter Topu Honis in Oecusse which he set up in the early nineties.

Tempotimor (Dili): Primeiru Ministru (PM) Taur Matan Ruak, simu ona karta husi Mari Alkatiri nu'udar Prezidente Autoridade RAEOA-ZEESM Timor-Leste. Karta ne'e, kona-ba mandatu Prezidente RAEOA-ZEESM ne'ebé sei remata iha 31 fulan ida ne'e. 

 

Tempo Timor (Dili) - The SVD procurator general is currently visiting Timor-Leste to support victims of ex-priest R.D., who sexually abused children in his orphanage in Oecusse. Father Peter Dikos is positive about the growing openness in the society, but disappointed with the criminal justice system in this case for being slow, not responsive and breaking promises.

‘We never had a case of this scale in our history,’ tells priest Peter Dikos, the procurator general of Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) in Rome. In March 2018 the congregation received a complaint against R.D., accusing the SVD priest of sexually abusing young children in his shelter Topu Honis in Kutet, Oecussi. ‘From what we know so far, it was systematic abuse of girls on a daily basis. It had been going on for years and years,’ says father Dikos in an interview with Tempo Timor during his visit in Timor-Leste. As SVD procurator general Dikos investigates cases of sexual abuse by members of his congregation.

Confession

Father Dikos doesn’t doubt that R.D., who originally is an American, committed sexual crimes against Timorese children. During a conference call last year between SVD’s superiors of the generalate in Rome and the regional office in Dili, he heard the priest confessing that he sexually abused minors. When the accusations were read to him, R.D. reacted with the words: ‘It’s 100 percent true.’ In November 2018 the priest was dismissed as a member from the SVD and from the clerical status.

Disappointed

While the church punished the ex-priest already a year ago, Dikos notices that the Timorese authorities have been slow, not responsive and breaking promises. ‘From the very beginning it was quite a challenge’ to deal with the police, he says. The SVD took the accused confrere R.D. twice to the police and requested a document confirming they reported the suspect to the authorities. ‘The police promised to send us a written document showing we reported the case. But after many attempts, up till now, we haven’t received any proof,’ Dikos says.

He is ‘a little bit disappointed’ in the criminal justice system. ‘I would have expected that the confrere would have been detained. But that did not happen,’ states Dikos. And although SVD’s superiors heard R.D. confessing to his crimes, they were never called by the prosecution to give evidence or a statement. Dikos notes that proceedings take very long. ‘I would expect the judicial system to be more pro-active’ and that the case would have concluded long ago. ‘For me it is a big surprise that a case about such a serious crime, drags on,’ he says.

Maliana

Last April R.D. was finally arrested by the Timor-Leste’s police, but not detained. Before the arrest, the prosecutor general of the republic (PGR) called the bishop of Dili to ask whether the ex-priest, who is now 82 years old but in good health, could stay on humanitarian grounds under house-arrest in the SVD residence in Maliana. The congregation accepted the arrangement, but with conditions. ‘We told the PGR: we accept him if we get a request in writing,’ Dikos explains. Other conditions were that the civil authorities had to provide security and make sure that the ex-confrere didn’t have any contact with potential victims or witnesses. ‘But nothing has been fulfilled,’ says Dikos.

Suddenly on 12 November the ex-priest decided to leave Maliana and took the ferry to Oecusse. Behind the scenes professionals, individuals and SVD worked frantically to inform the police and prosecution in Timor-Leste. When R.D. arrived in Oecusse, he was arrested and taken to the police station. Then the court decided that the ex-priest had to be returned to the SVD residence in Maliana. Last week the police took him on the ferry from Oecusse to Dili. But the SVD refused to host him in Maliana after their negative experiences with the civil authorities not fulfilling their promises to provide security and control R.D.’s movements. ‘Where our ex-confrere is now, I wouldn’t know,’ says Dikos. (Sources told Tempo Timor that he is in Academia Policia in Dili).

Openness

But about his visit to Timor-Leste Dikos is very positive. He met with the first lady and her cabinet. ‘I saw a great openness from their side,’ he said. The minister for social services is ready to help to regulate the status of Topu Honis so the shelter can continue to support children in need in Oecusse. Currently the institute, which was a private project by R.D., is run by his confidante Lily Tarung who has obstructed SVD’s efforts to get in touch with the staff and potential victims. An earlier attempt by the SVD to visit Topu Honis failed as ‘the people and the potential victims disappeared from the place,’ Dikos tells. He also had a meeting with the minister of education discussing more in general to increase awareness among students about sexual abuse. Dikos praises Fokupers and JU,S Jurídico Social calling them the ‘engine’ pushing for support and justice for the victims of the sexual abuse by the ex-priest. Later this week he will have a meeting with the PGR as well.

Justice and mercy

‘I heard people in Timor-Leste saying: “We are Christians. We are Catholics. We should forgive.” That’s nice. But we can’t neglect justice. Justice and mercy go hand in hand,’ says Dikos. He calls on all parties – government, church, the criminal justice system, NGOs, lawyers and professionals – to cooperate in this case. ‘We are creating history for Timor-Leste, because this is the first case involving a priest accused of committing sexual abuse that is being dealt with on this level,’ he says.

Dikos is travelling to Oecusse to reach out to victims and to support Fokupers, JU,S, local SVD and other professionals so they can assist survivors in the process of healing and recovering. ‘Some victims might not understand what happened to them at the time. But as they grow up, they will realise it. If they don’t open up, it can be a horrible trauma for the rest of their lives,’ Dikos says. He believes that if everybody works together, ‘slowly but certainly’ there will be justice for victims. Dikos: ‘That will be a new beginning of their life.’

 

Tempotimor (Dili) – Tribunal Rekursu ohin (14/08) fó sai ona rezultadu katak dekretu Parlamentu Nasionál Número 6/V (Primeira Alterasaun Lei Número 3/2014, 18 Juñu) kona – bá Lei Rejiaun Administrativa Espesiál Oe-Kusi Ambeno (RAEOA) ne’e la hetan norma ruma mak inkonstitusinal nune'e lei refere konstitusionál, maibé eis Prezidente RAEOA atual Sekretariu Jeral partidu FRETILIN, Mari bin Amude Alkatiri konsidera katak prosesu dezenolvimenu iha Oe–Kusi Ambeno sei hakiduk ba kotuk. 

Tempo Timor (Bobonaro) - The bishop of Maliana apologizes to the victims who have been sexually abused by priests, nuns and fraters. With a team he works on a system so that people can report cases of child sex abuse by the clergy to the Church. Currently he knows of only one case in Timor-Leste.

On the slopes of a hill just outside the town of Maliana lies the large white villa where bishop Norberto do Amaral lives. It is sunny, hot and quiet. Until the two dogs start barking. The bishop opens the door of his residence and agrees to an interview with Tempo Timor. Quickly he walks down a small path that takes him through the weeds and bush. Some fifteen minutes later he sits in a large black chair in the parlour of the yellow coloured diocese with pillars and red roofs. In front is a small pond with water from which a statute of Jesus rises up. The brand new buildings, paid for by the government, have only been completed some five months ago.

Last February the bishop participated in the special summit at the Vatican, which was convened by the Pope. Bishops and church leaders gathered in Rome to discuss the avalanche of cases the Catholic Church is facing in a growing number of countries where children have been sexually abused by priests, bishops, cardinals, brothers, pastors and nuns - and how to prevent these atrocities. ‘As Catholic Church we have to combat this kind of crime,’ bishop Do Amaral tells Tempo Timor, adding that because of these crimes people are now saying ‘that the Church is like Lucifer.’ 

Procedure

In May the Pope issued a new law stating that the dioceses all over the world have to set up ‘public, stable and easily accessible systems’ to make it possible for people to report sexual abuse by clerics and religious, the use of child pornography, and cover-ups of these crimes. The new rules cover clerical abuse not only against children but also vulnerable adults, adult seminarians and novices. The Pope said that ‘the crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful.’

In Timor-Leste bishop Do Amaral is responsible for drafting the procedure which will enable people to report sexual abuse cases in the country to the Church. He explains that the Catholic Church has formed a team that discusses how the system in Timor-Leste should look like. ‘The procedure has to include how to deal with victims and how to take care of the suspect. The Pope gave us clear instructions to work closely with the courts with regard to these crimes,’ says Do Amaral. Soon he will report to the Vatican. ‘In December we will send our proposal to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for them to review. Then they will say what we have to do,’ Do Amaral explains. The system needs to be in place in June 2020. (See also: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-05/pope-francis-motu-proprio-sex-abuse-clergy-religious-church.html)

The bishop explains that the procedures will slightly differ in each country. ‘In Timor-Leste we touch, hug and caress. It means love to the children. In the USA, however, that is already considered sexual abuse. But that’s too much,’ he says. Countries like for instance Australia, Portugal or India can be an inspiration for Timor-Leste. ‘But we shouldn’t follow these people’s ass,’ states the bishop. The model has to fit the local circumstances. ‘We have our own laws, customs and rules,’ Do Amaral says.

Obligation

The Pope’s law also says that it is an obligation for all clerics – men and women – that if they are aware of sexual abuse against children, cover-ups by their superiors and mismanagement of investigations, they have to ‘report promptly’ to the Church authorities. The dioceses and congregations that are already investigating such cases have to update the Vatican regularly and have to complete their work within three months.

One case

When asked how many cases there are in Timor-Leste, bishop Do Amaral says: ‘There is only one case.’ He refers to the former priest R.D., an American who ran the shelter Topu Honis in the hamlet of Kutet in the enclave of Oecusse. In November 2018 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is responsible at the Vatican for handling these cases, found R.D. guilty of sexual crimes against minors and dismissed him as a priest. ‘The bishop of Dili told me: sometimes he confesses that he did it, but at other times he didn’t confess,’ says Do Amaral about the ex-priest who is now 82 years old, adding: ‘It might be because of his old age, that he sometimes forgets.’

But his victims can’t forget. The Timorese NGO Fokupers has published a statement of one of his victims, who describes the horrific abuse she was subjected to. The girl tells how she had to come in his bedroom where R.D. orally raped her. (See: https://fokupers.org/latest-news/2019/4/25/vtima-abuzu-seksul-iha-orfanatu-oecusse-konta-ninia-istria) According to sources the abuse at Topu Honis was systematic with R.D. allegedly sexually abusing every single young girl in the shelter at least once, molesting vulnerable children who were under his care for many years.

Last week Tony Hamilton, who is an Australian donor of Topu Honis, published an heartfelt open letter expressing his deepest sympathy to the staff, children and youth at the shelter. He tells how happy he always was to be able to visit and support them, but that until last year he didn’t know children were abused. Hamilton writes that in April 2018 he went to see R.D., who admitted twice to him personally that he had sexually molested young girls in Kutet ‘for a long time.’ Hamilton feels utterly betrayed by the ex-priest. He saw no other way than to stop sending money to the shelter, a normal procedure when an institution ‘does nothing to support and protect the children,’ Hamilton writes. If there is good new professional leadership and oversight, and the shelter is transformed so that the safety and wellbeing of the children and women is guaranteed, Hamilton will donate money again.

Arrest

At first, for a whole year, the prosecution in Timor-Leste didn’t investigate the allegations against the American ex-priest, until civil society pushed for it and the case drew international media attention. Last April the Timorese police arrested the former priest. Currently the prosecution is investigating the case, which is of high complexity as it allegedly relates to abuses spanning decades and involving a large number of children. R.D. has, however, not been put in prison, but stays in the residence of the SVD congregation in Maliana. ‘He can’t go around, because he is under house-arrest,’ states bishop Do Amaral. But a picture on Instagram shows R.D. in a corner in a restaurant in Maliana using a laptop, while the current director of Topu Honis, Ms. Liliana ‘Lily’ Tarung, is with him enjoying a beer.

The bishop says he is not aware that in 2014 also a frater, who was the director of the Dormitório do Lar O Bom Samaritano in Gleno, in the district of Ermera, was arrested and prosecuted. ‘Sorry, I don’t know. It is the first time I hear about this,’ says the bishop. A.B. was found guilty of sexually abusing five boys and is now serving a sentence of more than seven years in the prison of Becora, in Dili. Earlier this year there was an attempt to request a pardon for the frater. When the bishop hears that this year a request to pardon the convicted frater was submitted to President Francisco Guterres, popularly known as Lú-Olo, he says: ‘He shouldn’t get it because we have to wait until the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith finishes its work on the procedure.’

Message

Although the Catholic Church and SVD congregation did investigate the allegations against R.D. and punished him for his crimes by dismissing him as a priest, the Timorese Church leaders have been reluctant to give a full public account to the population about what happened in Oecusse and haven’t reached out to the victims there. Public statements have mostly been made in response to questions by journalists. Recently Fokupers asked the Archbishop in Dili in an open letter to support the victims of Topu Honis shelter and to visit them. So far the Archbishop hasn’t reacted to the call.

When asked what message the Maliana bishop has for victims of clerical sexual abuse in general, Do Amaral says: ‘The Church will always love you. We will not exclude you from the Church.’ He refers to the words of the Pope saying: ‘We apologize to them on behalf of those priests, nuns, or fraters who committed those crimes. We have to ask them forgiveness.’ The bishop stresses that the Church has to ‘make an effort to rehabilitate the victims. They need to get medical and psychological care for trauma healing and counselling.’

Australia and USA

It is striking that there seem to be just two cases in Timor-Leste. In 2017 the Australian academics Desmond Cahill and Peter Wilkinson (both are ordained priests who left the church in the 1970’s) published their international study about sexual child abuse by priests, brothers and nuns between 1955 and 2000. ‘We have only two countries where we have reliable statistics: Australia and the USA,’ writes Cahill in an email. The average figure for both countries is that 6 to 7 per cent of the parish priests (one in fifteen priests) committed sexual abuse against minors. The figure for religious order priests is lower in both countries. He calls the abuse figures for religious brothers ‘horrendous’, usually above 20 per cent.

Vulnerable children

Cahill and his colleague also looked at the circumstances that create a higher risk. ‘One key factor here is access to vulnerable children,’ Cahill explains. ‘A child was more likely to be abused sexually if it was a boy, especially an altar boy or choir boy, and most especially if you were in a Catholic residential care institution such as an orphanage run by priests or religious brothers,’ Cahill explained in his email. (As happened in the two cases that are publicly known in Timor-Leste). Explaining the potential danger, the Australian professor states: ‘It is well to remember that today the Catholic Church runs over 9000 residential care facilities for children, especially in India and Italy. Many are run by religious brothers rather than by nuns.’ (More information: https://www.rmit.edu.au/news/all-news/2017/sep/report-lifts-lid-on-catholic-church-and-child-sex-abuse)

Scandals worldwide

In general it takes a long time before cases come to light. ‘The major factor in the Church’s bishops covering the abuse up was protection of the Church’s reputation and its self-concept as an all-holy Church,’ writes Cahill. It makes it even harder for victims to tell what happened to them. ‘The Australian figures show that Catholic victims took on average 29 years to disclose’ the crimes committed against them, states Cahill.

In the last two decades a large number of church abuse scandals have been revealed in mainly North and South America, Australia and several European countries. The most prominent case has been the trial against the Australian cardinal George Pell, who had a top position at the Vatican. He has been found guilty of sexual abusing two choir boys and has been sentenced to six years in prison. Meanwhile, in a number of countries the Catholic Church has been paying compensation to victims.

‘I am new’

The bishop of Maliana, who has been in this position at this diocese since 2010, says he is not aware of more cases in Timor-Leste. ‘I only just became a bishop,’ he explains. ‘This diocese is new. This is not an old diocese. Even my people are also new. That’s why they don’t give me information. Because I am new, they don’t have the trust yet. Until today nobody came to report a sexual abuse case to me. So I can’t say anything, because I don’t know anything.’ He adds: ‘Maybe there are some cases, but they hide it.’

He is aware of the Pope’s order that the Church has to receive people who come to report. ‘But if they remain silent, how can we process those cases?’ he states.

‘But if people come to report a case, the diocese will find a way to process it, as this is an order from the Vatican,’ the bishop says. If there is enough evidence ‘I will report it to the police.’

Tempotimor (Dili)-Membru Parlamentu Nasionál husi Bankada KHUNTO konsidera orsamentu estadu ne’ebé aloka ba Rejiaun Administrativu Espesial Oekusse-Ambeno (RAEOA) saugati de’it tanba la rezulta buat di’ak ida iha ne’ebá.

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