Victim of paedophile priest missing, wife fears worst

ON Saturday night Tracey Pirona hugged her husband as she has done many times before, and reassured him: ‘‘We’ll get through this.’’

On Sunday morning she found the letter she had feared for years, and rang police.

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John Pirona, 45, of Belmont North, a victim of one of the Hunter’s most notorious paedophile priests, has not been seen or heard from since then.

‘‘The longer this goes on the worse I feel about what the outcome’s going to be,’’ Mrs Pirona said.

Mr Pirona’s letter, with the final words ‘‘Too much pain’’, leaves no doubt the pain is the sexual abuse he suffered at a Catholic high school and the ugly secrets the church knew, but did nothing to stop.

Mrs Pirona can’t help reading the letter, although every word is like a blow.

‘‘It was always on his mind,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s like a poison inside of them that eats away at every part of their soul. They just want the pain to go.’’

Mr Pirona, a NSW Fire Brigades officer, was sexually assaulted by the priest, who cannot be named for legal reasons, in 1979. He was 13.

In a statement to police in 2008 he described the school as brutal, where he feared being bashed if people knew he had been abused.

‘‘Every day to me was just survival,’’ Mr Pirona said.

A court case confirmed he was sexually assaulted several years after the school principal, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and the late Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Leo Clarke, knew the priest sexually assaulted young boys.

Mr and Mrs Pirona have spent 18 years of marriage dealing with the consequences. They have not been living together for a short period although they have continued to express their love for each other, including on Saturday night when the family had dinner together.

Mrs Pirona agreed to speak yesterday because her husband was not the only victim.

‘‘Our children are saying ‘Where is daddy?’ They know the police are looking for him. Everyone who knows him, we’re all feeling guilt because you can’t help but think, how could we not see he was at breaking point?

‘‘It’s not just the victim but the snowballing effect it has on their families, partners, children, parents, friends. When our kids are old enough this will affect them. It never ends. It just never ends.’’

Mrs Pirona called on Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright to support a royal commission into the Catholic church’s handling of child sex abuse cases, saying her husband’s life was devastated because the church failed to stop a known child sex offender.

‘‘John has done a lot of things to try to heal the pain and make it go away,’’ she said. ‘‘Even in the last couple of months he’s tried to change all the things that make him anxious, but it’s always there.’’

The lack of prosecutions against those responsible for moving paedophile priests and hiding their crimes ate at her husband, Mrs Pirona said.

‘‘These people have to be held accountable,’’ she said. ‘‘If I can do anything that can try and stop somebody else having to go through this, and their families having to go through this, then at least that’s something.’’

Anyone with information is asked to contact Lake Macquarie Detective Sergeant Kristi Faber, who is heading the police investigation into Mr Pirona’s disappearance.

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