A HUNTER group wants an investigation into the deaths of more than 30 former Catholic high school students by suicide, drug overdoses or possible suicide, because of links to known or alleged child sex offenders.
A list with more than 30 names – all male – of boys, teenagers and men has been compiled for a submission to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, with the youngest aged just 13 when he took his life in his bedroom, and the most recent suicide early last year.
The list includes three former St Pius X, Adamstown, brothers in the one family who died of suicide and drug-related deaths, and two brothers from another Catholic Hunter family who took their own lives aged 16 and 22.
It also includes the names of three students who were in the same year at a Hunter Catholic high school during a period when men who had regular contact with the school went on to be charged with child sex offences years later.
One of the three students was 13 when he died in 1974, the second drove a car over a cliff in 1977 aged 16, and the third died after an incident at Merewether in the 1980s, when he was in his early 20s.
The list also includes two former Hunter Catholic high school students who took their lives aged 15 and 16; a former altar boy whose family was devastated when he took his life in 2006 after an adolescence that included convictions for break-ins or attacks on churches; and a 19-year-old who died in a car crash in 1984, and whose parents were shattered years later when former St Pius X students revealed he told them he had been sexually abused by John Denham.
The list includes the suicide of a man in 2008 after indications he was sexually abused by a priest as a child, and the 2010 death of another former St Pius X student whose teachers included Denham, a child sex offender priest.
The man took his life at Charlestown only days before starting work as a teacher following a mature age change of occupation. He refused to talk about Denham to his wife, and said he had hated the school.
The list includes the suicide in July 2012 of Belmont North fireman John Pirona, a victim of Denham’s whose death launched the Herald’s Shine the Light campaign for a royal commission.
The list’s co-ordinator and group spokesman, Bob O’Toole, who was sexually abused by Marist Brother Leon Mackey at Marist Brothers, Hamilton, in 1955, at the age of 10, said an investigation was needed because in many cases boys, teenagers and men had died and devastated families had not known why.
In too many cases false or misleading explanations were circulated after their deaths, or the boys, teenagers and men had troubled histories involving drugs, alcohol and crime in the period before their deaths, which caused families to retreat into silence after they died, Mr O’Toole said.
‘‘The wider Catholic community needs to be informed of the tragedies that we believe have been perpetrated by clergy and religious [teachers], and the victims who did not survive,’’ he said.
‘‘There are too many cases of boys and teenagers dying at an extremely young age at a time when we didn’t know what we now know, or men dying years later after sad and sometimes lonely lives.
‘‘We’re not saying we know that all the people on the list were sexually abused by clergy or religious [teachers], and possibly we’ll never be able to say for sure.
‘‘But while the royal commission is investigating issues raised by survivors of institutional child sexual abuse, we have a responsibility to search for answers for those who can no longer speak for themselves.’’
To contact the group email bob.otoole39@big pond.com
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