CATHOLIC priest David O’Hearn is in custody awaiting sentence after being found guilty of more than 40 child sex offences against six victims after a fight that has gone all the way to the High Court.
A jury on Friday found him not guilty of three offences against one boy, after separate juries in 2015 and earlier this year found him guilty of 44 offences against six other boys, including sexual intercourse, indecent assault and inciting a minor to commit an indecent act.
The offences occurred in the Hunter while O’Hearn worked as a trainee priest and priest in parishes including Cessnock, Muswellbrook and Windale in the 1980s and 1990s. Victims ranged from nine to 13.
In a statement released late today Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright expressed “great shame that another member of the clergy has been guilty of crimes of this kind”.
Judge Richard Cogswell lifted an order on Friday preventing O’Hearn from being named as trials ran in Sydney over a number of years. In 2011 O’Hearn sought leave to appeal to the High Court to have trials involving six victims heard separately. He was first stood down in May, 2008.
Bishop Wright confirmed O’Hearn had spent most of the past four years in jail.
“Investigating and establishing abuse can be extraordinarily complex and difficult, as is demonstrated by the eight years that the investigative and judicial phases of this case have taken up in our criminal justice system,” Bishop Wright said.
“I would like to acknowledge the NSW Police and in particular Detective Sergeant Faber for their dedication and commitment to bringing justice for the victims.
“The first allegations of child sexual assault against O’Hearn surfaced in 2008. The Diocese, through Zimmerman House, supported the victim to make a complaint to NSW Police in 2008, who then commenced their investigations.
“Over the following eight years the Diocese provided healing and support services to many of the men who came forward alleging abuse, as well as their families. That support will continue.”
Bishop Wright said the diocese had investigated unrelated, non-criminal allegations against O’Hearn in 1995 which were re-investigated twice in 2005 by independent investigators. In both cases the allegations were ‘not sustained’.
“The first thing I feel in this matter is, as always, deep, deep regret for the harm that has been done to the boys that O’Hearn abused and their families,” the bishop said.
“Nothing can make up for their pain and loss. All the men who have come forward have shown great courage and, I hope, will receive some element of healing and relief from knowing that they have been instrumental in seeing justice done.
“Secondly, I feel great shame that another member of the clergy has been guilty of crimes of this kind. I know that many of you too are shocked, pained and disillusioned when any priest is shown to have been so unfaithful to his calling.
“In this case in particular, many people believed implicitly in David O’Hearn and his professions of innocence, which makes the confusion and devastation that follow from the news of his convictions all the greater.
“David O’Hearn has now been the subject of some seven trials, including an appeal. In some cases, including this most recent trial he has been found not guilty, but as of now David O’Hearn has been convicted of about 40 offences against six teenage boys, stretching back into the 1980’s.
“As the series of O’Hearn’s criminal trials has now apparently concluded, I will be making the required report on his convictions to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, which has jurisdiction over the question of his dismissal from the priesthood. I had previously set this process in train, and, with the trials concluded, it can now go forward.”
Zimmerman Services can be contacted on 4979 1390, Monday – Friday from 9am – 5pm.