DILI, East Timor — An American missionary who was a hero in East Timor for founding children’s shelters that have operated for more than two decades has been expelled from his Catholic congregation after admitting to sexual abuse of minors, a church official and a family member said.

Media reports about the allegations have stunned East Timor, one of two predominantly Catholic countries in Asia along with the Philippines. The bishop of Dili, Virgílio do Carmo da Silva, told reporters on Sunday that Richard Daschbach was expelled from the church last year and was no longer a priest.

Daschbach was born in Pennsylvania and first came to East Timor in 1966 when it was a Portuguese colony. He founded the Topu Honis or “Guide To Life” children’s homes in Oe-Kusi Ambeno, an East Timorese enclave in the Indonesian-controlled western half of Timor, in 1992, and was also feted for saving children during East Timor’s war for independence from Indonesia.

A family member in the U.S. who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue said Daschbach left Oe-Kusi Ambeno but later returned. East Timorese media reported he has been performing Masses in the area.

“He admitted that the allegations against him are true,” the family member told The Associated Press. “The priests took him away because of allegations of child abuse. He admitted that it was true. He has returned against their will.”

The public defenders’ office in Oe-Kusi Ambeno said it was aware of the scandal but there was no criminal case registered against him.

Daschbach has not responded to requests for comment.

The two shelters cared for orphans and children and youth aged 3 to 18 from impoverished families, disabled people and women who have fled domestic violence. Some of the hundreds of children who lived in the shelters went on to study at universities in Australia, the U.S. and Indonesia.

Catholic News Service, citing Jovito Rego de Jesus Araujo, episcopal vicar for pastoral care in Dili, said it was the first time sexual abuse of minors by a Catholic priest in East Timor had come to light.

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