Priest dies facing sex crime cover-up charges

MAITLAND Newcastle Vicar General Barry Tunks asked the community for ‘‘respect, sensitivity and compassion’’ yesterday after the death of controversial Catholic priest Tom Brennan. 

The priest died of cancer at Hunter Valley Private Hospital at 5.15pm on Sunday after making history in August as the first Australian clergy member to be charged with concealing the child sex crimes of a notorious paedophile priest.

The partner of one of the paedophile priest’s victims said there had been too many suicides and attempted suicides for the church to expect compassion.

‘‘The church hasn’t had anything to do with whatever justice has been achieved,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s been the victims, the police and the media who’ve achieved justice. The church would have let them die with their reputations protected if it had had its way.’’

Father Brennan’s death came only days after a Newcastle magistrate was told the priest was too ill to attend court on two concealing crime charges, and eight charges of sexually assaulting a boy, 8, at Waratah in the 1980s. He was also charged with assaulting two boys by caning them in the 1970s for reporting a priest had sexually assaulted them.

Strikeforce Georgiana Detective Sergeant Kristi Faber alleged the notorious paedophile priest sexually assaulted 31 boys after Father Brennan, a former principal of St Pius X, Adamstown, was first warned of the offences in 1978.

The boys included John Pirona, who committed suicide in July after leaving a letter saying he was in ‘‘too much pain’’ related to being a child sex victim.

Father Brennan, 74, died only six months after he was forced to retire as Toronto parish priest, and after making a statement recognising the ‘‘ongoing hurt’’ experienced by victims of the notorious priest who taught at the school.

In 2009,  Father Brennan was convicted of making a false statement to police in which he denied receiving any reports about the teacher/priest,  who cannot be named for legal reasons.

Father Tunks acknowledged that while many knew him as ‘‘a faithful pastor for 52 years ... news of Father Brennan’s death will be received with mixed emotions by members of the faith and wider community’’.

It was a ‘‘time of sadness, distress and confusion’’, he said.

Former St Pius X student Phil Crosbie said he was  sorry Father Brennan would not face court but ‘‘he’s being judged in another place’’.

The family of other  victims expressed similar sentiments, saying Father Brennan would now ‘‘meet his maker.’’

A Hunter man named Tom, who overcame Father Brennan’s false statement in 2000 to record the first successful action by a victim against the notorious priest, said Father Brennan ‘‘wasn’t big enough’’ to admit he had been repeatedly told about the paedophile priest in the 1970s.

Father Brennan’s denials even after he was convicted caused great harm, Tom said.

‘‘I’m just pleased he was charged with these other matters before he died,’’ he said.

Former Maitland-Newcastle diocese child protection officer Helen Keevers said: ‘‘I express sorrow at the news, particularly because the latest matters will not now be aired in court’’.

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