Victims of ex-Catholic priest reveal torment

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The Newcastle Herald (Australia)

Aug. 22, 2014, 10:30 p.m.

OFFENDER: Defrocked Catholic priest John Denham is being sentenced after pleading guilty to 25 child sex charges.

OFFENDER: Defrocked Catholic priest John Denham is being sentenced after pleading guilty to 25 child sex charges.

A HUNTER man wept in a courtroom on Friday as he asked the questions that expose the tragedy of child sexual abuse.

“What could I have been? What would my life have been like?” asked the man known as ST, as defrocked Catholic priest John Denham, 72, sat metres away in a glass-enclosed dock.

ST told a sentencing hearing at the Sydney Downing Centre court that he struggled with suicide every day because those questions could never be answered.

“I hate life. I look forward to the day I die,” he said in a statement read to Judge Helen Syme by his legal representative, Nicola Ellis.

ST was Denham’s student at St Pius X High School, Adamstown, in the 1970s.

Denham is being sentenced after pleading guilty in August last year to 25 child sex charges including buggery, violent oral sex and indecent assault involving 18 boys, aged 11, 12 and 13, at Singleton, Wingham and St Pius X in the 1970s. He accepted another 23 indecent assault charges had occurred.

It is the third round of sentencing in 14 years for Denham, after he was convicted in 2010 of crimes against 39 boys aged 5-16 and sentenced to remain in jail until at least 2022.

He was first sentenced in 2000 for child sex crimes against a 14-year-old, and received a two-year suspended sentence.

The suicide of one of Denham’s victims, Belmont North man John Pirona, was the catalyst for the Newcastle Herald campaign for a royal commission into child sexual abuse.

In court on Friday, Judge Syme, who described Denham as a sadistic priest when she sentenced him in 2010, helped another Hunter victim, known as PM, read his statement to the court after he sobbed to a halt.

PM described how he arrived at St Pius X as a small and vulnerable child, whose parents and a stepfather died before he was 10.

“I believe the Catholic school system should have protected me from my abuser,” PM said. “The Catholic Church should have investigated, but what it did was protect the abuser.”

In brief evidence, Denham told the court St Pius X school principal, the late priest Tom Brennan, never spoke to him about allegations from students and others that Denham was a sexual offender.

Father Brennan died in 2012 after he was charged with concealing Denham’s crimes, and sexually assaulting a child. Father Brennan was convicted in 2009 of making a false statement to police in which he said he knew nothing about Denham’s offences.

Judge Syme will sentence John Denham at a later date.

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