NOTORIOUS Hunter Catholic priest Vince Ryan took to the witness box in Sydney on Monday with a plan to break the silence of decades and apologise to more than 30 victims he sexually abused from the age of five.
Instead he spoke about himself and his fearful life.
“I’ve always been afraid of everything,” said Ryan, 78, during a sentencing hearing at Darlinghurst court after entering guilty pleas to three charges of sexually abusing a boy aged between 13 and 15 at East Gresford in the mid 1980s.
Ryan’s victim was described to the court as the boy Ryan had “forgotten”, after the priest volunteered the names of victims to police following his arrest in the 1990s.
Ryan told the court: “I couldn’t walk down the street. I’ve been terrified of my own shadow my whole life.”
He told the court he is also “very, very fearful” about returning to jail after serving an “horrific” 14 year sentence for crimes against very young boys.
Ryan’s comments to the court about his fearful life conflict with comments by him in March 1995 to a Catholic Church newsletter, only months before his shock arrest to become the first of the Hunter’s convicted serial church paedophiles.
The newsletter quoted Ryan talking about “wonderful times at Singleton” after his ordination in 1966, where he decided “If this is the priesthood this is a ball, it’s wonderful”.
Ryan also talked of a year-long “sabbatical” in Melbourne in 1975 where he enjoyed movies and “expanding your mind”, and “took on racing in a big way.. it was the first time I’d ever gone to a racecourse.. it was incredible.. it was a great year”.
The “sabbatical” followed serious child sex allegations in the Hunter, reported to Monsignor Patrick Cotter, who sent Ryan to Melbourne for a year and then facilitated his return to the Hunter where Ryan continued to sexually abuse boys for another two decades.
Ryan told Acting District Court Judge Norman Delaney that his solicitors prevented him speaking during his earlier conviction “and I’ve never had the opportunity to make an apology”.
But while he told the court he was “deeply ashamed” of his “crimes” and the “damage” he had caused his victims, Ryan did not say “I’m sorry” or “I apologise”, although he did say “I know these words of apology can’t take away that pain”.
Judge Delaney told the court, “I think everybody accepts there should be a sentence of imprisonment”, but barrister Mark Preece for Ryan argued that a suspended jail sentence was not inappropriate because the priest was “rehabilitated” and would not re-offend.
“It would be truly a crushing and horrible outcome for this man of age to be returned to a custodial sentence,” Mr Preece said.
“It’s often said that justice is a blunt instrument, but in my respectful submission it’s not so blunt that this man has to be returned to a custodial setting.”
A suspended sentence was “not simply a cop out”, Mr Preece said.
Ryan told the court that while he was sexually assaulting boys as young as five he “imagined (himself) as another child playing with them”.
“That’s exactly the way it was,” he said.
He told the court “I hope I can hold it together” while talking about his abuse of children and the damage caused.
“It’s a very emotional type of thing,” he said.
“The way in which that damage spreads about is mind-blowing. Why I couldn’t see it back then is difficult to behold.”
Barrister Sean Hughes for the Crown read sections of the victim’s statement to the court, in which he said the abuse occurred “because I couldn’t say no to someone as important as a priest”.
The boy felt he could not tell his family because they were very devout and felt that Ryan was “a good man”. They would not have believed him, he said.
Ryan will be sentenced at a later date.
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