This family warned the church about Fr John Sidney Denham

By a Broken Rites Australia researcher. 

After the paedophile priest John Sidney Denham was jailed in Australia on 2 July 2010 for sexually assaulting children, another family went public and revealed how they warned the Catholic Church authorities about Denham 32 years earlier, in 1978. But the church ignored the 1978 warning and continued to protect Denham until Broken Rites finally exposed him in an article in 2006.

Mary and Mike Rounce told their story to journalist Joanne McCarthy on 5 July 2010 and it was published in the Newcastle Herald (in New South Wales) the next day.

In the late 1970s, their son Michael was a pupil at St Pius X Catholic High School (in Newcastle, north of Sydney), where Father John Denham was the Head of Discipline.

In 1978 Mr and Mrs Rounce told their local Bishop (Most Reverend Leo Clarke in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese) of their concerns about Father Denham and his behaviour with their son Michael.

The Rounces say that Bishop Clarke's failure to act, along with the failure of many others including St Pius X school principal Father Tom Brennan, contributed to Michael's death.

Michael Rounce was 19 when he died in a motor vehicle crash, six troubled years after Mrs Rounce flicked open his maths book one day to find drawings about Denham that left her cold with fear.

But it wasn't until early 2010 -- 25 years after their son's death and at a meeting of some of Father John Denham's known victims -- that Mr and Mrs Rounce discovered Michael might have been a target of some of the sadistic priest's worst offending.

''Michael's been gone for 25 years but when I heard that, it was as if he'd died that day,'' Mrs Rounce told the Newcastle Herald, while weeping at the secrets her son took to his death.

Snatches of conversations with their son from years ago leave Mr and Mrs Rounce sobbing with guilt that they couldn't see that their son's troubled behaviour, after the age of 12 when he first came in contact with Denham, was linked to sexual abuse by the priest.

Mrs Rounce spoke with her son about Denham many times, but Michael played down the priest's approaches.

She weeps while recalling a conversation during his later teenage years.

''I said to him, 'I understand how you feel Michael' and he said to me 'No mum, you really don't'.''

Mr Rounce can barely speak about a relationship with his son that went from being open and close, to angry and distant.

He feels extraordinary guilt that he didn't "see" his son was being sexually assaulted by a priest and teacher, in a Catholic school.

''Being a father, you're supposed to be there for your kids,'' he says.

Mrs Rounce contacted her local parish priest in 1978 on the day she saw her son's drawings of Denham in his text book.

She received a phone call from Denham the next day.

''He said something like 'All this nonsense. I hope it doesn't mean it's going to spoil our friendship','' Mrs Rounce said.

''I couldn't speak. I couldn't believe it. Then he said he'd be dragged over the mat about it, but he didn't seem the least bit worried.''

Mr and Mrs Rounce saw Bishop Leo Clarke in the following week. The bishop did not seem surprised by what he was told.

''I got the impression he was going to handle things,'' Mrs Rounce says.

Denham remained at St Pius X school until January 1981 when he was transferred to parishes at Charlestown and then Taree (in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese).

Mrs Rounce sobs about the children who were sexually abused after she spoke to Leo Clarke.

''If we'd gone to the police, all those other boys wouldn't have been abused. That's something you carry around with you,'' she said.

''But we knew nothing about what was happening with other boys. We didn't know how bad it was until after Denham was charged. Only the church knew what he was doing, and they just moved him on.''

More background

  • Mr and Mrs Rounce were not the only parents who warned the church authorities about Father Denham in the 1970s. In 1979 another mother complained to the St Pius X school administration about Denham on behalf of her son ("Tim") but the church still continued to protect Dennham. 
  • On 2 July 2010, in Sydney District Court Judge Helen Syme sentenced Father John Sidney Denham to jail until at least June 2022. The judge commented about how Denham was protected by the church.