Double life: He was a priest in public, but a child-abuser in private

By a Broken Rights Australia researcher. Article updated 15 December 2012

A sexually-abusive Catholic priest lived "parallel lives", a judge told Sydney District Court on 7 December 2012, when he sentenced the priest to jail for crimes against children in northern New South Wales, including in the Hunter Valley.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge Peter Zahra said: "In many respects his reputation [as a priest] enabled his offending to continue over many years."

The priest was convicted of having committed more than 20 indecent assaults and sexual assaults against four boys, aged from 8 to 13 years, between January 1982 and January 1993. These four boys were not the priest's only victims; they were merely the four who provided evidence in this particular court case.

Judge Zahra sentenced the priest to a maximum of 13 years jail, with a minimum of eight and a half years before becoming eligible to apply for parole.

For legal reasons, the priest's name cannot be published yet. The court will lift the name-suppression order in due course. (This kind of temporary suppression-order frequently happens, for good reason, in criminal proceedings.)

In his sentencing remarks, Judge Zahra said that the priest "exploited [the victims'] emotional vulnerability for his own sexual gratification."

Earlier in 2012, after a five-week trial, a jury had found the priest guilty on 23 charges against the four boys.

The jury of seven men and five women heard evidence of how the priest told an eight-year-old victim to look at a "Sacred Heart of Jesus" image on the wall and "Just look up at Jesus" while he committed oral sex on the boy.

The boy, who had a physical disability and was teased at his Catholic school, was proud to be an altar boy because it was "something important" and a chance for him to "belong" to a group, the jury heard.

"He wanted his parents and relatives to see him up on the altar, being important. That was his dream," the prosecutor told the jury. Instead, the boy was repeatedly molested by the priest. The priest told the boy they needed to be naked together so the boy could demonstrate he was "worthy".

When the boy told his devout mother that he did not want to be an altar boy any more, without revealing what had been happening at the church, she told him she wanted him to continue.

Regarding another of the charges, the jury was told that a Catholic primary school teacher referred this victim to the priest because there were problems at the boy's home.

The priest took the boy to a park and molested him before asking: "How's that, do you feel better now?", then warning him not to tell anyone because "No one will believe you anyway".

The sentencing on 7 December 2012 was attended by about thirty of the priest's supporters. The priest blew kisses, waved and winked at these supporters as he entered the courtroom.

On the other hand, the victims and their families were heartened by the feeling that they had exposed the priest's "double life".

The priest may appeal against this conviction. Any appeal would be handled by the appeal court on a future date.