My brother Greg visited Topu Honis with me once, maybe you still remember him, and he asked me earlier this year what were the 5 best days of my life, 2 of the best days of my life – quite long -- were spent at Topu Honis. There was the first trip I made there with Therese in 2015, it was a great experience meeting all of you for the first time – lots of fun and laughter lots of great memories from that trip, but particularly the time we spent at Kutet. The other best day of my life was the last trip we had in June last year where I got to drive the school bus at Mahata. The older kids were so happy, I remember going the wrong way around the roundabout so we did a few loops – you all laughed at me. They are great memories and great days in my life that I look back on with happiness, but also with sadness.
A lot has happened to your community in the past year and the sadness comes from the recent changes that have occurred at Topu Honis.
It is over 4 years now since Therese and I first visited Topu Honis and met Richard Daschbach and the mothers and children at Topu Honis. During that visit back in 2015 Richard introduced us to all of you and Therese and I decided that we would assist Richard in any way we could to make a better life for the Topu Honis Community. We agreed to provide additional financial support to Topu Honis so that improvements could be made to the health of the children. Since then every year, we have been providing financial support to Topu Honis on a regular basis.
Richard Daschbach did many, many good things, his work at Topu Honis and his service to Timor-Leste was recognised throughout the world, he was considered by all who met him to be a great man and a great humanitarian. I loved him as I do my brothers and my father. However he has betrayed the love and trust that the community of Topu Honis and people of Timor-Leste have bestowed upon him for so many years, and he has also betrayed the love and trust of all the people and organisations that have provided him and the Topu Honis community with ongoing financial support. I know this is true because Richard Daschbach told me what he did to the kids at Topu Honis.
Let me therefore tell you the truth as I know it:
In February 2018 I heard that Richard had been removed from Topu Honis by SVD in Dili. I needed to understand why and I was told that he had sexually abused young girls in his care. I emailed Richard asking him what had happened and he informed me that he was getting old and had decided to retire to the SVD home in Dili.
I initially found the accusations hard to believe, so I decided in April 2018 to visit Richard in Dili. During this visit I met with Richard on 3 separate occasions, on two of these occasions he admitted to me that he had sexually molested young girls in Kutet, that he had abused them and had done so for a long time. When I asked him if he felt any remorse for his actions he said NO, as he had always been that way. What he told me shocked me, it destroyed my love and respect for him. Not only did it disgust me that any man could abuse children under his care, but I knew immediately that his actions were not only evil but were also serious crimes.
Because what he told me affected so many young girls at Topu Honis, I had no option but to report what Richard had told me to the judicial authorities.
This is the truth - Richard told me these things and Lily Tarung was also there and heard what Richard said.
Richard’s actions were a sin against God, were evil and were criminal. The Catholic Church in the Vatican has conducted an investigation and decided in November 2018 to expel him from the Catholic Church – Richard is no longer a catholic priest. He did not retire, he was dismissed as he was found to had sexually abused girls in Topu Honis. The criminal investigation into the abuses that he admitted to continues, which is why he has been arrested and removed from the Topu Honis community. None of these actions would be taken against Richard unless he had admitted to the crimes and there was significant evidence against him.
My decision was to report the conversations I had with Richard to the authorities so that justice can prevail and he can never again sexually abuse young girls in his care.
Following Richard admission of sexual abuse, I had to take the difficult decision to stop funding Topu Honis. It was really hard to take this decision because I do not want the children of Topu Honis to be victims once again. I know that Topu Honis is your home and that you need the shelter and the support it gives. I did try to work with Lily Tarong on the hope that, since she also heard Richard confess to his crimes, she would take serious steps to protect the children of Topu Honis. But Lily’s actions in supporting the return of Richard from SVD in Dili to Kutete (before his arrest by the police) and the regular visits to Maliana where he was sent by the Court, made impossible to continue our financial support. I understand that other donors have also stopped support. It is normal for donors to stop support when it is revealed that abuses towards the children happened and when the institution does nothing to support and protect the children.
Therese and I and all supporters of Topu Honis love and respect each of you, all of you have shown us nothing but love and respect on all of our visits there. The love and respect you have shown us is returned to you many times over. There is no blame and there should be no shame for any of you for what has happened – it is not your fault, only Richard is to blame for his actions. His actions are criminal and they are indefensible.
To all of the mothers in Topu Honis: I say to each of you that we all have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the children in our care. Each of us, myself included, failed to do this. I don’t blame you or myself, but we as elders failed to protect our children from Richard – we should have done better and now we must acknowledge the truth of what has happened and we must do better in the future. Don’t close your eyes and pretend that there are no serious allegations against Richard. Every person is capable of doing good and bad. I heard from Richard himself what he did abuse children in Topu Honis and I am sharing with you now. We need to support the children by showing solidarity, talking to them or helping them access services which can provide the support they need. These children and young people might not know that they need this kind of support and might even say that they do not need. But this is often the reaction of victims of abuse. By ignoring what has happened we are being accomplice of the abuses committed by Richard, which already resulted in dismissal from the church and arrest from the police.
To the children of Topu Honis [those currently living and those who lived in the past]: People do good things and people do bad things. What Richard told me he did to children in Topu Honis was really, really bad. Persons who do bad things need to be held responsible; that is why Richard was dismissed as a priest, arrested by the police and is now under investigation. One’s age or the good things that they did in the past can never be an excuse to close your eyes to the bad things he did. The recognition of the bad things he did does not mean being ungrateful to the support you have received. While Richard was the one present living in Topu Honis, he did not provide all the support alone and many people were, in fact, supporting you and the community through Richard. The support you have received while living in Topu Honis does not mean that you owe Richard and you need to pay with your silence. What is wrong needs to be spoken out. It is not easy, but it is how Timor-Leste community lives, and only how, I trust, Topu Honis can have a truthful future.
Dear children and youngsters, when adults do sexual acts with children, the children can never be blamed. The law and the Church are clear that the one at blame is the adult who took advantage of the children. I have been hearing that some older Topu Honis children have been threatening and pressuring young girls not to talk about what happened in Richard’s bedroom during many, many years. I do hope that is not true as it would be very sad to see that older brothers are not supporting their younger sisters.
Terese and I had no choice but to stop financial support to Topu Honis. We are still providing directly some financial support to one of you to conclude University and we are ready to provide support in the future. Please do not think that we are abandoning you. We will always be there to support you and we hope that you and Topu Honis can continue to be an important part of our lives. But we cannot continue providing financial support when nothing is done to protect the children and to support them.
To the entire local community: Topu Honis is part of your community and has given opportunities to your children, allowing them to study and to have a health life. Children are not in debit to anyone who supported them and should never be subject to abuse as an exchange for financial and shelter support. To think otherwise is simply to deny the basic humanity of the children of Oecusse. The evil acts of one person should not close the doors to continue supporting the children living at Topu Honis and provide future support to other children in need. We know that at time Topu Honis represented a real opportunity to support the children of Oecusse to succeed despite challenges. Even if Richard played a large role at Topu Honis and now has been taken away by authorities because of what he admitted he did to the children there, we have always thought that the community itself – you all together, caring for each other and respecting each other – can stay strong and can move to an even brighter future.
Therese and I have always cherished the time that we have been able to spend at Topu Honis and in Timor-Leste. Always we have felt welcomed and loved by all the people we have met and we have always tried to return this love.
Therese and I hope that Topu Honis can continue to operate, to continue to care for the women and children who seek shelter there and we hope and pray that never again will young girls in care anywhere in the world, but particularly at Topu Honis, be subjected to physical or sexual abuse.
Topu Honis can never be the same - too much trust has been betrayed, but it can survive and it can transition to be a better and safer haven for those in need. However, I believe that this transition can only occur by acknowledging what has happened in the past and building a future based on love and trust, a future that guarantees the safety of women and children who seek protection.
Therese and I and others that supported Topu Honis in the past would be prepared to provide financial support to you in the future if changes are implemented that guarantee the safety of the children, including having a professional management structure with experience on child care, a formal oversight body to monitor the functioning of the orphanage/shelter, and providing direct personal support to the young children who lived the last years in Topu Honis ensuring that they are not subject to any threats or fear.
There are a number of support organisations in Timor-Leste who can help you during the transition. I have spoken to Fokupers, a highly recognized civil society organization who support women and children, and they have agreed to be ready to provide some type of support to the girls and women, if you need/want. The Director, Sra. Maria José Guterres, can be contacted at 7624 82 98. If also you want, you can contact me through Sr. Olívio Barros at 7689 17 24 and we can discuss how we can support you to move forward as an organization, leaving behind the past and involving others who can put the interest of the children as the highest priority.
I do wish to return to Topu Honis and look at your eyes and be able to see through them the bright future which you all will have ahead.
With Respect and Love,