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HE buried a son in August last year and became the dignified grieving father who called for a royal commission.

One year later retired Newcastle solicitor Louis Pirona still grieves, but the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse holding its first public hearings in Sydney on Monday acknowledges his son’s life and death mattered.

‘‘It honours people like John who are part of that tragic cohort of victims of child sexual abuse, where so many have taken their lives,’’ Mr Pirona said.

‘‘If John was here he would be pleased to know he played a significant part in it coming to pass.’’

John Pirona, 43, father of two and NSW Fire Brigade officer, committed suicide in July last year after ‘‘Too much pain’’ from sexual abuse by notorious paedophile priest John Denham.

His death was the catalyst for the Newcastle Herald’s Shine the Light campaign for a royal commission, including a public meeting in Newcastle on September 16 last year where Mr Pirona and John Pirona’s widow Tracey spoke.

It was also the meeting  at which  Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox first sent a message to NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell – that police alone could not provide justice for the victims of historic child sexual abuse.

Mr Pirona praised Chief Inspector Fox.

‘‘The royal commission would not have happened if he hadn’t done what he did,’’ he said.

He praised former prime minister Julia Gillard who announced a royal commission on November 12 last year, and Margaret Cunneen, S.C, who has headed the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into allegations about the Catholic church in the Hunter.

‘‘Julia Gillard’s decision was swift, courageous and a positive demonstration of strong leadership. It forever has endeared her to me,’’ Mr Pirona said.

‘‘The NSW commission is achieving a lot of good and I think the commissioner (Cunneen) is doing an excellent job.’’

Mr Pirona criticised the Catholic church for continuing to fail the community on the issue of child sexual abuse, particularly after NSW Commission of Inquiry hearings in Newcastle.

‘‘This state of affairs has come about through the most grievous fault of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church,’’ he said.

‘‘Any institution, and not just the Catholic Church but such as the Catholic Church, that’s been shown to be derelict in their duty to children should consider the words – ‘Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa’ – my fault, my fault, my grievous fault.

‘‘That’s something I haven’t heard from the Catholic Church yet.’’

John Pirona’s aunt Angela Barry said the family’s protest was not against the Catholic Church, but ‘‘the wrongness of what we learnt about the extent and the way child sexual abuse was dealt with by the church’’.

John Pirona’s final letter to his family made clear the impact of Denham’s sexual abuse, Mr Pirona said. Too many others have died and the ugly secret of child sexual abuse has died with them.

STRENGTH: Louis Pirona, with his sister Angela Barry,  reads a letter from then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard to journalist Joanne McCarthy.

STRENGTH: Louis Pirona, with his sister Angela Barry, reads a letter from then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard to journalist Joanne McCarthy.

‘‘Without that note we would have been grasping to understand why,’’ he said.