RETIRED Catholic priest Ron Pickin has denied being part of ‘‘an organised criminal activity’’ within the Church in the 1970s and 1980s that protected sadistic predator priest John Denham.
Father Pickin, 81, said Denham was ‘‘a crook’’, but denied knowing he sexually abused boys, denied watching Denham sexually abuse a boy or boys, and said Sydney District Court Judge Helen Syme was wrong to say he was actively or tacitly complicit in those crimes.
‘‘She’s said it wrong,’’ said Father Pickin, the former Wingham priest, army chaplain and Newcastle police chaplain who is confined to a wheelchair in a Hunter aged care facility.
On Friday Judge Syme issued some of the strongest remarks yet heard in a court about Catholic Church knowledge of a child sex offender priest while sentencing Denham, 73, to a total minimum term of 19 years and five months jail for sexually abusing 57 boys aged 5-17 between 1968 and 1986 in the Hunter and Taree.
‘‘The combined set of facts lead to an inescapable conclusion of the active or tacit collusion by at least two other church officers,’’ Judge Syme said before naming Father Pickin and the late Toronto priest and St Pius X Adamstown principal Tom Brennan.
There was sufficient evidence to support a finding of ‘‘an organised criminal activity’’, she found.
Because of the ‘‘unquestioning respect and the protection offered by his co-workers this offender had a remarkable 18 years of uninterrupted offending in several parishes and schools’’, so that the ‘‘sexual, sadistic abuse of vulnerable children was a lifestyle choice for him’’.
Father Pickin denied Judge Syme’s finding that he offered alcohol to boys at Wingham presbytery during overnight trips with Denham, but said one boy drank most of a bottle of his scotch which required him to bath the boy, with another boy.
‘‘I told Denham to take them home the next morning,’’ he said.
He did not ask about sleeping arrangements when Denham and several boys were required to sleep in the presbytery’s second bedroom.
In an interview in 2012 Father Pickin agreed a husband and wife spoke to him in 1999 when he was at Beresfield parish, to tell him the wife had been sexually abused by a Hunter priest in the early 1950s when she was 11.
He denied the husband’s claim that they told him the priest was notorious Hunter priest Denis McAlinden, but agreed he had not asked the priest’s name.
Asked why he didn’t, Father Pickin said: ‘‘I wasn’t interested.’’
In a statement on Saturday Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright said the diocese ‘‘continues to be saddened by the terrible harm that John Denham inflicted on so many innocent lives’’.
He did not respond to questions about the judge’s finding of ‘‘organised criminal activity’’.
‘‘When the diocese has had the opportunity to obtain Justice Syme’s judgement in full, it will be considered most carefully,’’ Bishop Wright said.