CATHOLIC priest David O’Hearn was the master manipulator who charmed and groomed people to get his way and told child victims to “look up at Jesus” pictures as he sexually abused them in church buildings.
He was the priest who stood in the dock during trials, waved to supporters and implored them to “keep the faith” in him as an innocent man and victim of injustice, despite juries finding him guilty of child sex crimes.
After four years of trials, appeals, re-trials and hearings where his name could not be reported in the media, O’Hearn on Friday could finally be revealed for what he is – a serial child sex offender who is sexually attracted to young boys and preyed on the most vulnerable.
“He was a predator. I faced him in court because we no longer have to carry the shame of what was done to us. That shame has now shifted. He should be the one who’s ashamed,” said a victim of O’Hearn’s who was 12 in the mid 1980s when he was sexually abused.
O’Hearn was convicted of 44 crimes against six boys. He gained sexual gratification from wrestling with boys. He was found guilty of multiple indecent assault charges in church buildings, parks, cars and on camps and forcing oral sex.
Evidence included that O’Hearn took photos of one naked boy because “he wanted to show it to another priest”; told others “This is what God wants” while sexually abusing them, and then “This is our secret”.
He targeted children from very devout families at Muswellbrook, Cessnock and Waratah and when, years later, they made statements to police O’Hearn argued in court that they were part of a conspiracy against him, or they had been sexually abused by other Hunter paedophile priests.
In a statement released on Friday evening Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright acknowledged that “many people believed implicitly in David O’Hearn and his professions of innocence”.
O’Hearn’s history in the diocese was controversial. He was repeatedly moved from Muswellbrook to Cessnock, Toronto to Rutherford, Mayfield, Swansea and Nelson Bay. He was the subject of a church inquiry as early as 1995. In the early 1990s O’Hearn was assistant priest at Cessnock with Vince Ryan, who was later convicted of child sex crimes against more than 30 boys.
In 1998 O’Hearn was at the centre of a very public dispute with Rutherford Catholic primary school principal Mike Stanwell over the school’s future.
After Mr Stanwell was stood down parents petitioned the then Bishop Michael Malone for the principal’s reinstatement, but the bishop backed the priest.
A letter from a Rutherford school teacher to Bishop Malone described O’Hearn as a man who “manipulated people”.
“Father David was very calculated in the effects that he caused. He came across as a showman. Money was exceedingly important, as was his public image. It was obvious he liked to get his own way and be the centre of attention,” the teacher wrote.
Bishop Malone was told O’Hearn brought his dog into the primary school classrooms and allowed it to “run havoc” while teachers tried to control the children.
O’Hearn, who was first convicted of child sex crimes in 2012 after he was stood down in 2008, will be sentenced at a later date.