JOHN Denham is one of Australia’s worst paedophile priests whose crimes were the catalyst for a royal commission.
When we look back and ask how this national tragedy occurred, we need only look at him.
‘‘He is a man who enjoyed the power and status of his priesthood,’’ said Judge Helen Syme when she first sentenced him in 2010.
Defrocked, shackled at times, without his books and offended by the company he keeps, Denham minus the garb of the Catholic Church is now revealed for what he is, and what he was for decades while he was moved around the Hunter and Taree – a sadistic, violent predator of children.
He was first convicted in 2000 when a courageous victim went to police. That man phoned me in June 2006 to ask why no media had ever reported it. I spoke to Denham and included lines about his conviction in a longer article, and it sat on the page like a ticking bomb.
In court on Friday a sudden wave of grief for another Denham victim, John Pirona, hit me and had me in tears. John’s suicide in 2012 after leaving a letter that ended ‘‘Too much pain’’, was the point of no return for me and many others, and the catalyst for the Newcastle Herald’s Shine the Light campaign for a royal commission.
As Judge Syme said on Friday, in the short sentence that reduced me to tears, ‘‘Old sins cast long shadows’’. Too many people have died. Too many people struggle every day to face a world that allowed these crimes to occur, and to lay hidden, for so long.
John Pirona was not in court on Friday, but a close friend identified by the judge as PM was. In John’s statement to Strike Force Georgiana police in 2008 – the first Denham victim to make a statement that led to Denham’s conviction and sentencing in 2010 – he spoke about his fears for the friend he hadn’t seen for years. PM was only a small child whose parents had died, leaving him one of the most vulnerable of Denham’s targets.
John Pirona feared PM had committed suicide. He died without knowing PM was still alive.
In court on Friday PM sobbed as the horrific details of Denham’s offending were read out. But he bore witness for John Pirona who tried to protect him all those years ago – two children in a morally bankrupt hell created by men here on Earth.
DEFROCKED paedophile priest John Denham committed violent and sadistic sex crimes against young boys for several decades with the complicity of two other Catholic priests, in what a Sydney judge has described as ‘‘organised criminal activity’’,
In a scathing assessment of Denham, 73, and the church that protected him, Sydney District Court Judge Helen Syme on Friday named the late Toronto priest Tom Brennan, and retired Wingham priest Ron Pickin, as men who ‘‘must have known of this offender’s behaviour and did nothing’’.
The facts led to the ‘‘inescapable conclusion of the active or tacit collusion’’ of the priests, Judge Syme said.
‘‘There is sufficient evidence...to conclude complicity in the offending behaviour by these other church officers which supports a finding of an organised criminal activity.’’
Denham will serve a minimum 19 years and five months’ jail for crimes against 57 boys aged five to 17 between 1968 and 1986, and will not be eligible for parole until 2028.
He was sentenced to a minimum 13 years and 10 months’ jail in 2010 for crimes against 39 Hunter and Taree boys, including St PiusX Adamstown students.
Judge Syme extended the minimum sentence to 19 years and five months on Friday after Denham pleaded guilty to crimes against a further 18 boys.
The Catholic Church has paid compensation to more than 60 victims. At least a dozen former St Pius X Adamstown students believed to have been victims of Denham have committed suicide, including NSW fireman John Pirona.
His death in 2012 was the catalyst for the Newcastle Herald’s Shine the Light campaign for a royal commission.
‘‘The sheer volume of boys involved in this sexual abuse and the number of times that each child was abused by the offender is staggering, even to this court,’’ Judge Syme said.
‘‘The frequency of his offending was such that sexual, sadistic abuse of vulnerable children was a lifestyle choice for him.’’
But despite the number of reports of Denham’s offending to Father Brennan and the late Bishop Leo Clarke, Denham was moved from parish to parish in the Hunter and Taree and not reported to police before the diocese directed him not to work with children any more in 1994.
‘‘No safeguards were ever put in place to protect the community from this obviously dangerous individual,’’ Judge Syme said.
Denham sat in the dock with his head in his hands for the nearly two hours of sentencing.
He steadied himself when he stood to leave the court for the last time on his way to jail, but otherwise showed no emotion.
Denham ‘‘now places himself to be in the position of a martyr’’, Judge Syme said.
‘‘My observation is that he has no remorse, no contrition, no understanding of the enormity of his crimes and is still focused on his own needs and comfort.
‘‘He does not appear to have ever reflected that the effect of his abuse on 57 human beings has been, for some of them, to take away any enjoyment of life.’’
Three men who were sexually abused by Denham were in court to see him sent to jail.
Two of the three left the court sobbing as the priest’s crimes against them were read out in appalling detail.
A man who was raped on a school desk and disclosed the crimes during a suicide attempt on church grounds said he was relieved the priest was gone, outraged the church did nothing, and still grief-stricken for the school friends who died before the priest and the church were held to account.
He cried when asked if he wanted to say anything.
‘‘There are no words for what they’ve done,’’ he said.