R.D., who was born in 1937 in Pennsylvania USA, was not only a priest but also the director of the shelter Topu Honis in Oecusse, an enclave of Timor-Leste surrounded by neighbouring Indonesia. In the early nineties he had set up the centre to take care of orphans, children from extreme poor families, disabled people and abused women. In March 2018 a complaint was made to his congregation Societas Verbi Divini (SVD), accusing the priest of sexually abusing young girls who were under his care in the shelter in Oecusse.
In November 2018 the Vatican found R.D. guilty of sexual crimes against minors and dismissed him as a priest. ‘We never had a case of this scale in our history,’ stated father Peter Dikos, SVD’s procurator general in Rome, during a visit to Timor-Leste in December 2019. ‘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,’ father Dikos said in an interview with Tempo Timor.
At first Timor-Leste’s authorities didn’t take action against the defrocked priest, until initial investigations were started and the police arrested him in April 2019. However, R.D. was not taken to prison. The prosecution and the church arranged that the ex-priest would stay in a residence of the SVD congregation in the town of Maliana. ‘He can’t go around, because he is under house-arrest,’ stated the bishop of Maliana, Norberto Do Amaral, earlier in an interview with Tempo Timor. Nevertheless, on 12 November 2019 R.D. managed to travel freely to Dili to take the ferry to Oecusse, where the police was waiting for the ex-priest to arrest him again.
Finally, on 10 December 2019 R.D. was sent to prison in Dili where he stayed under preventive detention while the allegations were further investigated. However, last June the court of appeal in Timor-Leste decided to release R.D. from prison, and put him under house arrest while ordering he was not allowed to have contact with children and youngsters from the Topu Honis shelter. Meanwhile the former priest was also wanted for wire fraud by the USA. A Red Notice means that police units worldwide are asked to locate and ‘provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action,’ Interpol explains on its website. At the moment R.D.’s whereabouts are unknown.