Father David Anthony O’Hearn was ‘tipped off’ about a church inquiry, a court is told

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Broken Rites http://brokenrites.alphalink.com.au/nletter/page177-ohearn.html

June 2010

By a Broken Rites researcher

Catholic Church authorities knew for years (since at least 1995) that there were concerns about how Father Anthony David O’Hearn behaved towards children, according to documents tendered to an Australian court. But these concerns did not, at first, reach the police. Eventually, in 2004, the church itself started an “in-house” inquiry but Father O’Hearn was “tipped off” that he was under scrutiny, the court documents allege. Finally, in 2008, the police became involved and they charged Father O’Hearn with child-sex crimes.

In 2010, Father O’Hearn is before the criminal courts, charged with 17 child-sex offences relating to five young boys, in the 1980s and 1990s.

Father David O’Hearn, who was born on 28 April 1961, is a priest of the Maitland-Newcastle diocese, north of Sydney (this is one of the eleven Catholic dioceses covering the state of New South Wales).

On 17 June 2010, after a preliminary (committal) hearing in the Newcastle Local Court, magistrate Elaine Truscott ordered Father O’Hearn to stand trial. The case will now proceed to a judge in a higher court, the New South Wales District Court.

Court documents

As a part of the committal proceedings, the prosecution submitted a brief of evidence (a file for the information of the court). This included a statement by Helen Keevers, who was the manager of the Maitland-Newcastle diocese’s child-protection unit (she has since left this position). She was on a Child Protection Advisory Panel which the diocese formed in 2004. The O’Hearn matter was discussed at one of the first meetings of the panel, Ms Keevers’ statement said. Bishop Michael Malone asked the panel to investigate Father O’Hearn, she said.

The panel was advised about a series of complaints, dating from the 1990s, alleging inappropriate behaviour by Father O’Hearn, Ms Keevers’ statement said. She said a psychologist’s report given to the former Bishop Leo Clarke outlined information about O’Hearn’s behaviour in the company of children. (BishopClarke was in charge of the Maitland-Newcastle diocese until 1995.)

A panel member was asked to investigate, but declined because this panel member was a friend of Father O’Hearn, Ms Keevers’ statement said.

The panel hired a private investigator but he told Father O’Hearn’s friend: “Tell your mate there’s nothing to worry about,” Ms Keevers’ statement said.

Father O’Hearn’s friend told the panel about this disclosure and another private investigator took over the investigation. He found that there was no substance to the allegations against Father O’Hearn.

Father O’Hearn later told Ms Keevers that the first private investigator told him he had nothing to worry about.

Members of the panel believed that the friend also discussed the investigation with Father O’Hearn and disclosed information to him, Ms Keevers’ statement said.

Statement from a jailed priest

The brief of evidence tendered to court also contained a statement from a Catholic priest, Vincent Gerard Ryan, who was jailed in 1996 after pleading guilty to abusing dozens of boys over a 20-year period.

Ryan’s statement said O’Hearn was his assistant at the Cessnock parish in the early 1990s, however Ryan “didn’t hear anything about him or another assistant priest in relation to children”.

But Ryan went on to say that “they wouldn’t have been aware of my behaviour either”.

How the case began

During the early court proceedings of the O’Hearn case in 2009, it emerged that in 2008 the New South Wales police received a complaint from a person who alleged that when he was a child, he had been sexually abused by Father O’Hearn. Charges, relating to this boy, were laid in the Newcastle Local Court in February 2009.

In further procedural court appearances in 2009 and early 2010, Father O’Hearn was charged with offences against additional boys.

The prosecution alleged that the earliest of the charged offences occurred in the Muswellbrook parish in 1987. This was early in Father O’Hearn’s career, shortly after he was ordained.

Other offences allegedly occurred in the early 1990s while Father O’Hearn worked in parishes at Cessnock, Maitland and Windale.

Police documents tendered in court on 15 July 2009 referred to youth-group activities that were conducted by Father O’Hearn.

June 2010 hearing

During the final stages of the magistrate’s proceedings, on 16-17 June 2010, Father O’Hearn faced multiple charges including sex with a minor, indecent assault and committing acts of indecency against a person aged under 16.

This hearing was held in a closed court.

The alleged victims were not in the courtroom — they gave evidence from elsewhere via closed-circuit TV.

The court was told that one of the boys had been emotionally disturbed and asked Father O’Hearn for advice. The complainant, then a ten-year-old altar boy, alleged that, during a period of months, Father O’Hearn forced him to perform oral sex on the priest, either in the priest’s car or at a church presbytery. The alleged victim said in a police statement that when he once refused to comply with Father O’Hearn’s sexual demands, the priest said: “If you don’t do it, nothing will be fixed and you will still have your problems.” The boy was also allegedly told: “This is how we fix your problem” and “I could make things harder for you at school and no one’s going to believe you anyway.”

Another alleged victim, also a former altar boy, stated that his parents showed little interest in him. He said that “Father David” was the closest thing that he had to a role model and that he had confided in him about being abused by his uncle. The prosecution alleged that Father O’Hearn took the boy on a camping trip for altar boys and shared a tent with him. During the night, the boy woke to find Father Hearn lying on him with an erect penis, his statement said.

Witnesses told of wrestling matches involving Father O’Hearn when the boys were aged from eight to about twelve.

During the “wrestling”, Fr O’Hearn allegedly rubbed a boy’s genital area and rubbed his own genital area against the boy’s body, the court was told.

Prosecutor Helen Wilson told the court: “This is not a case of two grown men in sport — here we have one gown man and a boy.”

Next step in the court process

Following the magistrate’s decision, the case is scheduled to come up for a procedural mention in the District Court at an early date.

Father O’Hearn has not yet entered a plea but he has previously made a statement protesting his innocence.

The police investigation is being conducted by Detective Sergeant Kristi Faber, of the “Strike Force Georgiana” investigation team, Lake Macquarie Detectives Office, at Charlestown Police, Hunter Valley, NSW, telephone 02 4942 9909. The investigation is still open.

Broken Rites research

Broken Rites has researched Father David O’Hearn in the annual editions of the Australian Catholic directories. His annual entries all list him as a priest of the Maitland-Newcastle diocese.

Before being ordained, David O’Hearn was a deacon at Waratah parish in 1985 and at Singleton parish in 1986.

He was ordained in late 1986. He then became an assistant priest at Muswellbrook in 1987.

In the 1990 directory Fr David O’Hearn was listed as an assistant priest at St Joseph’s parish in Cessnock, where the priest in charge was Father Vincent Gerard Ryan.

In the early 1990s, Father O’Hearn was listed as the priest in charge firstly at the Windale parish (St Pius X) and later at the Toronto parish (St Joseph’s).

In the directories from 1995 to 1999, he was listed as being in charge of the Rutherford parish (St Paul’s).

In the 2000 edition of the annual Directory of Australian Catholic Clergy, he was “a priest in residence” at St Columban’s/Christ the King, 58 Church Street, Mayfield West. Also listed at that address was Father William (Bill) Burston, who was the Vicar-General of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.

In the directories for 2001 and 2003, David O’Hearn was listed as the acting parish priest at St Patrick’s, Swansea.

In the 2003 directory, he was listed as “on leave” (care of the diocesan office).

In the 2004 directory, he was listed as the Parish Priest of St Michael’s, Nelson Bay, and was still listed there when the police began investigating him in 2008.

Fund-raiser for O’Hearn

In August 2009, while Father O’Hearn was on bail awaiting his next court appearance, the Newcastle Herald reported that about 100 supporters of Father David O’Hearn, from as far away as Sydney, “attended a function at a Port Stephens restaurant this week that raised $18,000” for the priest.

The following is from the Herald article on 27 August 2009:

 The priest, who was stood down from his position at St Michael’s parish, Nelson Bay, attended the event despite being described as initially “a bit nervous” about what the crowd would say.

It is understood the function has infuriated other Catholic parishioners.

Corlette resident and parishioner Tony McGowan said the function had been organised by himself and four other O’Hearn supporters and had nothing to do with the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.

He emphasised the function had not been promoted as raising cash for O’Hearn’s legal fees, but rather an amount for “him to use for whatever he wanted”.

Tickets were sold, cash donations made and items donated by supporters and businesses were auctioned.

“It was packed to the rafters . . .and everyone wanted to know when the next [night] would be,” Mr McGowan said.

Mr McGowan said O’Hearn, who had supported him at the time of his wife’s death, had been under enormous pressure since the charges were laid, which had prompted the function.

He said he had not heard of any complaints about the function, but that “everyone is entitled to their opinion”.

A diocese spokeswoman said Bishop Michael Malone was out of the area and unavailable for comment.

She said the diocese had not been involved in organising the event. She declined to respond to a question as to whether the diocese considered it appropriate that the function took place, the Herald report concluded.

19 Responses to Father David Anthony O’Hearn was ‘tipped off’ about a church inquiry, a court is told

  1. Alice Taylor says:

    I have just returned to Australia, and so very surprised to hear of Father David O”Hearn, Can you tell if he has been sentenced to prison, I would like to write to him

    • Sylvia says:

      As far as I can tell Father David O’Hearn is in jail pending trial, but I am not certain of that Alice. I am sure that if you check with the Australian victim support group group Broken Rites, you will be able to find out exactly where he is.

  2. ibrahim says:

    To the best of our knowledge, Fthr David O Hearn is in Silverwater MRRC and fine & in good spirits.

    • stephen says:

      how do you know he is on remand – Broken Rites don’t seem to have any information.

      • Pat Garnet says:

        I was told rumours about David O’Hearne’s abhorrent behaviour about 20 years ago.I was living in a different part of N.S.W at the time and was not aware of the details only that there were claims being made of child sexual abuse (paedophilia) regarding him. Forty years ago I knew his relatives very well and when I heard this news I was gobsmacked. Nevertheless my brother is STILL an ardent supporter of O’Hearne’s innocence and I find that galling.
        What are these do gooder’s of O’Hearne doing to compensate the shame, humiliation and embarrasment—, of an extremely respectful family who have literally “given their life to the catholic church”? Money won’t fix the heartbreak and loss of essence of the children’s lives he has stolen, nor will it relieve the pain and smear to the O’Hearne relatives.
        To expose the cover- up by the heirachy of the catholic church is my mission. Iwill never regret what I have done voluntarily, but to find out that I have been duped and hoodwinked by one of the most powerful institutions in the world,who professed to be my caretaker, guide and example of all that is good, has been as though I have found out my parents (who were exlemplary catholics, ahem) were criminals.Some people are not able to extract themselves from the web of dependance and chronic submission to a group of men who have turned out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing. I attended all but 2 days of the Newcastle /Maitland Inquiry into two dead priests who got away with paedophilia on a grand scale. My account of the catholic church and what it stands for is borne out by the arrogance, lies and shamelessness of members of the catholic bureaucracy called to account for their conduct in the cover-up of criminal behaviour. Mr McGowan’s comment “everone is entitled to their opinion” is an understatement of the most gross type.What a cop out. Has he spoken to victims?, dare I say NO.

  3. Pingback: NSW Enquiry Rolls On (Or: The Money or the Cops) | lewisblayse.net

  4. Leona says:

    Pat, you articulate so well the feelings that I have regarding the church. As a survivor, I appreciate your recognition that others who may not have been direct victims are still harmed by the actions of the perpetrator who deceived the congregation. It does seem “galling” to me, that others can continue to support these individuals, and when it’s a sibling, it’s even more difficult.
    I now have a greater appreciation for the worldwide scope of this issue, and the ongoing Inquiry in Australia is important in bringing about further understanding. I recently met with Bronwyn Halfpenny, an Australian Member of Parliament, to discuss the response to child sexual abuse in Canada. I believe she is a very wise woman who you may want to contact as you continue your mission to “expose the cover-up”

  5. Pat Garnet says:

    Lovely to hear from you Leona and your understanding about what I am trying to do. I will certainly do whatever I need to contact Bronwyn Halfpenny.Because I was made aware (first hand) over twenty years ago I have had a lot of time to draw conclusions from both sides of the fence. There is nothing left for me in the c.c (I don’t acknowledge with capitals or full title if I don’t need to) and instead it has “robbed” me of a way of life I found fulfilling. Mind you this exercise I am on now is much more exciting, with new developments almost daily toward my quest of exposing the wretchedness this group have cultivated for decaded possibly centuries. I hope we cross paths again soon.
    Cheers Pat

  6. 1 abandoned sheep says:

    Miecul, I have been giving only 2 cents each week for 15 months or more, in an envelope.
    I kept some roles of pennies, but, if I live another 3 years they probably will have run out.

    • Eve says:

      Abandoned Sheep

      I truly do not think that all preists are bad, I feel terrible for the men and women who have given their life’s to the church because they felt it was the right thing to do their calling, how awful to be stuck in the black tar that these perpatrators have creaed in their beautiful churches. I also believe there is much beauty in the church and the catholic religion I was raised catholic I love Jesus Christ my faith in him has pulled me through many unbearable times in my life since I was a child.My grandmother always took us to church insisted on it, I always loved the inside of the church the smell of candles the beautiful statues and the quiet even as a small child. I’m so glad I found this site it has helped me find my voice and I believe it is up to the Pope and the bishops to restore faith in the church by cleansing all churches without delay of the filth that these men have filled it with and if that means there are only a few preists left then so be it.I haven’t attended church for a very long time I’m torn it’s not an easy situation do we leave in protest or stay and be a strong voice within the church not sure I have not abandoned my faith I never will but I think too many ppl have blind faith in our preists they are just men not god they are in gods service therefore in ours not the other way around. I think many men who become preists do so on purpose so they can be in a position of power and trust an excellent front for a pedophille.The leaders of the church need to defrock and denounce all of these perpatrators immediately in order to restore faith in the church.
      I don’t understand why the Pope hasn’t when he could easily right the situation with the wave of his hand, so I ask why does the church protect pedophiles?

      • Miecul says:

        Eve, I struggled with my faith for years and didn’t attend Mass for many more. I one day realized, I wasn’t so much struggling with my faith, because my faith in Jesus never died, just parts of me did. I didn’t return to church for the priest, I returned because I had a good look inside myself and I didn’t like what In saw. It was family that brought this to my attention as if I needed them telling me something I already knew. But I was brought up a strong Catholic and all her teachings. With that knowledge I searched my soul and thought, if I were to die today, I knew where I’d be heading, without any doubt. I did a complete 180 and headed home. For the many thousands of sins I committed against him, He took my back. I gave him complete control of my life, like one does with a financial guy when you’re near bankruptcy. My life has been full of miracles ever since. I’m not a rich man but I have all the riches I’ll ever need in Jesus. I still struggle with my problems as a victim\survivor. I am getting help, but this is going to take time since I gave up all those mind altering substances. The powers that be may run the church but they have no control over me. What’s good for me, may never work or sound good to the next victim\survivor. I deal with my pain the best way I know how. It’s a struggle everyday not to take the easy way out of this mess, and head over to the other side of town and buy a little mercy. But I know from experience that it won’t fix a thing. I’m learning how to stop being a victim and just be a survivor. It’s no easy road as most of you know. Sylvia’s Site has been,and is a blessing for me. Thank you Sylvia, you’ve been a real diamond in the rough, and you’ve been a real life line and friend.

        • PJ says:

          I’m glad to hear you have turned things around. Like you, my faith in God never wavered, just faded into the background a little. My faith in that church however, is gone. I don’t need them to help me in my Christian walk anymore. Brought up as a staunch catholic…no more. Keep the faith dude and yes, Sylvia has been a Godsend as well.

        • Eve says:

          I will always have a relationship with Jesus Christ he has been faithful to me through all my struggles, especially as a child. My abuse started when I was 5 years old I have had a few abusers in my life the thing I always struggled with the most is I use to wonder why me do I have an invisible tatto on my forehead that says please molest me and the only ppl that can see it are abusers what did I do to bring all this on and attract these awful ppl towards me if anything I struggled with the idea that something must be wrong with me. I’m better with that issue now but having that thought in my head for years was not good for my self esteem.

  7. Pat Garnet says:

    Nowhere in your comment have you referred to the people whose lives have been irrevocably ruined. I can only assume from your last paragraph you know very little of the reality of the catholic church. Putting on your best clothes and going to beautiful building and smelling candles sounds like somewhere a child would enjoy, somewhat similar to a theme park or other.This organisation is set with men who appear like “wolves in sheep’s clothing”
    I have a faith and it has nothing to do with religions. Don’t wait for the pope or bishops to remedy the situation, they are the problem. Have you read any of the transcripts of the Royal Commission regarding the Newcastle Maitland Inquiry or the Towards Healing Case Study of the sexual abuse and cover-up (MOST IMPORTANT) by the catholic church currently under way?If you haven’t I implore you to do so and be assured you will understand how complicated the issue is because most of the hierarchy of the church have little, contradictory, or no memory of crucial incidents, reports etc., and a few have admitted they have failed. The biggest drawback with the Royal Commission so far, is that most of the time, and millions of dollars are being spent on “the blame game”, and no solid confirmation of, or action has been announced, to relieve the pain and suffering of victims who have a lifelong sentence because the “essence of their being” was stolen from them when they were children.

    • Eve says:

      Pat. I know only too well how the church has ruined ppls lives, that’s why I don’t go any more I also know first hand what sexual abuse is all about I am a survivor of sexual abuse not only by a preist but by my own family members I do not take it lightly my comments above were for abandoned sheep I was just tring to relay to him what the church meant to me and that I don’t paint everyone with the same brush. I have been following this site for a year now and it has helped me a lot to make decisions on my own situation rest assurEd I don’t have a fairy tale image of the church or it’s leaders they are just men.

  8. Peggy says:

    Whilst the irreparable damage to the young and vulnerable victims cannot be ignored, I do feel sympathy for the young man, brought up in a very strict Catholic culture by a loving and strongly bonded family …….. a young man who is probably gay, in conflict about his sexuality. He would have absolutely no possibility of a life lived truthfully as a gay man retaining the love and pride of his church and family. To out himself would mean rejection and shame. To the Catholic Church homosexuality is a sin. He takes the course of generations of many young Catholic men, to honour their families in celibacy and become a priest. He is in a place where he feels respected and needed. He is feted by both the Church and the community and does many good deeds. What he cannot do is control his human urges and the temptation is too much. He hopes the children will hold their silence and will not allow himself to think that they have been hurt in any way.
    They say that Jesus is forgiving. I cannot read any forgiveness in these pages. Of course the Church must address sexual abuse honestly and police must prosecute those who have broken the law. Children must always be protected from predatory behaviour. We could also show some compassion for those of us who are born with differences, change our culture and our laws, and allow these people to lead normal fulfilling lives without hiding as “shameful” degenerates.

    • Suzanne Herrick-Lee says:

      Peggy, whilst there are many other homosexual men who were raised in heterosexual strict Catholic homes, they didn’t use the priesthood to engage in paedophilia behaviors, To be truthful I am enraged as I read your post, you need to spend some time talking to a childhood victim of clerical abuse, look into their eyes and into their souls….you speak of forgiveness,,,,let’s have some justice first !!!!!! I really don’t know what cloud you are sitting on, but you certainly need to take some fog out of your eyes!!

    • PJ says:

      Peggy…why would we show compassion to a church, and it’s pervert collars who force us to go through years of fighting in the courts for recognition and justice? Until that church does the right thing and stops denying the abuse and denigrating the victims, there will be no mercy. Let they who are the authors of each abuse case take concrete steps to right the wrongs and stop the bullshit “reconciliation” of empty words. I also believe you are misguided in your words as you seem to portray gays as child molesters which is not true. The ones who have abused children are pedophiles. Just because someone is gay, doesn’t mean they are child abusers. Get your facts straight please and rethink your logic before posting.

  9. Lina says:

    Suzanne Herrick-Lee & PJ you pretty well addressed the points I had in mind about the little concerns about Peggy’s post.

    Peggy is wrong when she said: “To the Catholic Church homosexuality is a sin”.
    Being gay/homosexual is not a sin, the sin comes in when two gay men have sex. That is according to the teachings. of the Catholic Church.

    As for Peggy saying: “I cannot read any forgiveness in these pages.”
    It’s obvious Peggy didn’t read too many posting at this sight. I read about victims that forgave the priest that hurt them terribly. Forgiving doesn’t mean the priest in question should be excuse from taking responsibility for his evil deeds or it means getting a free pass from jail.

    I recall the time Pope John II went to see the man who shot him and the Pope forgave him.
    Nevertheless, Pope John Paul II didn’t start a petition to get the man out of jail. The man was forgiven but he still needed to pay for his crimes.

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