Plea for inquiry into church sex abuse

THE family of Hunter man John Pirona says there is a fitting legacy for him after his disappearance and death last week, when he left a letter saying he was in ‘‘too much pain’’.

That legacy is the truth about the Catholic church’s handling of child sex abuse issues over decades, including the 1970s when he was the victim of a paedophile priest at a Hunter school.

‘‘I do believe John is where he is now as a result of what happened to him when he was young and at that school, and such things happened to a lot of boys,’’ Mr Pirona’s father Lou said.

‘‘Any inquiry that unearths the truth about the people who did these things to children, and those who hid it, is not only desirable but necessary, in whatever form that inquiry may take.

‘‘John and other children who were sexually abused deserve that justice be done, because their lives have been ruined and taken from them.’’

Mr Pirona said his family had been overwhelmed by expressions of public support and calls for a royal commission after the Hunter had experienced too many paedophile priest cases, over too many years.

‘‘I’m very thankful and very grateful,’’ he said.

John Pirona’s brother-in-law Anthony Stevens phoned Cardinal George Pell’s office on Monday to say why Cardinal Pell should be the one to tell the NSW Government a royal commission was needed.

‘‘I appealed to Cardinal Pell’s obligation to the community to be the man who stands up and says ‘Bring it on, make it happen’,’’ Mr Stevens said.

‘‘You can’t profess on one hand to be a strong church and voice in the community when something as insidious as this is much more widespread than people thought.

‘‘If the church wants to be strong, it needs to stand up and take responsibility by saying a royal commission is needed. Saying they don’t want people to look into the finer detail of what they’ve done with these priests is not leadership.

‘‘I understand the fear that must be resonating within the church about the idea of a royal commission. There might be a downswing in the church, but the upswing might be far stronger than they ever imagined.

‘‘If they lead on the issue of a royal commission they’re displaying what they proclaim to be, which is a moral leader in the community.’’

Mr Stevens said Mr Pirona’s death was a ‘‘terrible loss to the Hunter community’’, but there had been others whose lives had been cut short by child sex abuse, and other families left devastated.

He paid tribute to a brother-in-law who was ‘‘funny and articulate’’ and who ‘‘led a full life’’.

‘‘John had that life robbed from him – what he could have done and could have been,’’ Mr Stevens said.

Details of Mr Pirona’s funeral have not been finalised, but it will be held next week.

Lifeline

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