DILI (East Timor), Dec 21 ― A court in East Timor jailed a defrocked American priest for 12 years today, his lawyer said, after he was charged with sexually abusing more than a dozen girls over decades.

The case was the first time that allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by a priest have gone to trial in the staunchly Catholic country.

Richard Daschbach, 84, founded a shelter in the early 1990s for orphans, vulnerable children and victims of abuse.

His lawyer, Miguel Faria, in comments broadcast by online news portal SMnewstimor, said his legal team did not accept the sentence and would coordinate with the defendant and his family to prepare an appeal.

Faria said the verdict was based on the testimony of four victims but had not taken into account the testimony of other witnesses.

Daschbach, who had faced 14 counts of sexual abuse of children younger than 14, as well as one charge of child pornography and domestic violence, is in detention and could not be reached for comment.

The Vatican defrocked the Pittsburgh-born priest in November 2018. A federal grand jury in Washington indicted Daschbach in August on seven counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place, the US Department of Justice said.

The legal aid firm representing some of the victims, JU,S Jurídico Social, welcomed the verdict but said in a statement that considering the gravity of the crimes, he should have received the maximum sentence of 30 years.

The trial was held in the district of Oecusse, 200km (125 miles) west of the capital, Dili, and near his Topu Honis shelter.

Well known for his assistance during East Timor's campaign for independence from Indonesia, Daschbach commanded respect from some in the country's political elite.

This February, former leader and East Timorese independence hero Xanana Gusmao sparked controversy after he was photographed giving Daschbach a birthday cake. ― Reuters