The Catholic Church has been accused of tokenism after defrocking notorious Hunter paedophile priest John Denham while failing to defrock other clergy child sex abusers.
"They get rid of the worst of the worst to make it look like they're cleaning up their act, but they're picking and choosing," said a Newcastle victim of Vince Ryan, who was jailed after sexually abusing 35 boys between 1972 and 1991, and released last year.
"I asked [Bishop] Michael Malone to defrock Ryan back when he was jailed [in 1996] and Malone said they wouldn't. So why did they do it with Denham?"
Maitland-Newcastle Bishop William Wright's announcement on Sunday that Pope Benedict laicised (defrocked) Denham in May, after a recommendation from former Bishop Malone, met with a mixed response from victims of Hunter paedophile priests and their families.
Several people contacted by the Newcastle Herald agreed with Bishop Malone's argument that the church was responsible for its paedophile priests, while defrocking made them the community's responsibility.
In the case of Vince Ryan, the church and the priest signed a formal document in which he agreed not to return to the Hunter region. The condition was at the request of some Ryan victims. The church agreed to support the priest during his lengthy parole in Sydney.
His Newcastle victim said it was offensive that someone like Ryan could still call himself a priest, despite the church stripping him of his right to act as a priest.
Denis McAlinden, who the church tried to secretly defrock in 1995 over sexual abuse of young girls, continued to act as a priest despite being stripped of his right to do so in 1993.
Peter Gogarty, a victim of Jim Fletcher, called the defrocking of Denham "tokenism", and his sexual abuser's right to call himself "Father" until the day he died a repeat of the abuse.
"He's buried as Father Jim Fletcher. That's what's wrong with the argument put forward in the Vince Ryan case. He can still call himself a priest," he said.
It is extremely rare for the church in Australia to defrock clergy sex abusers.