A CATHOLIC priest shook his head and his family wept yesterday as a jury found him guilty of 23 lurid child sex offences.
A Sydney District Court jury took nearly two days to find the priest guilty of all 23 counts of indecent or sexual assault against boys as young as eight years old in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The priest, who cannot be named for legal reasons, shook his head in denial until he was led from the court for his first night in jail.
His parents and sisters, who had attended every day of the five-week trial, left the court in tears.
A man who was closely associated with the case was also in tears yesterday as he praised the efforts of investigating police.
"After all this time, it's wonderful news," he said.
"I think the police have done an absolutely fantastic job and they deserve to be congratulated for it."
The jury of seven men and five women heard evidence of how the priest told an eight-year-old victim to look at a Sacred Heart image on the wall and "Just look up at Jesus" while he committed oral sex on the boy.
The boy, who had a physical disability and was teased at his Catholic school, was proud to be an altar boy because it was "something important" and a chance for him to "belong" to a group, the jury heard.
"He wanted his parents and relatives to see him up on the altar, being important. That was his dream," barrister Kate Traill, for the Crown, told the jury.
Instead, he was repeatedly molested by the priest in a northern NSW church.
He was confused because of his age, and because the priest told him they needed to be naked together so the boy could demonstrate he was "worthy".
When the boy told his devout mother that he did not want to be an altar boy any more, without revealing what had been happening at the church, she told him she wanted him to continue.
In another case a Catholic primary school teacher referred the victim to the priest because there were problems at the boy's home.
The priest took the boy to a park and molested him before asking: "How's that, do you feel better now?", then warning him not to tell anyone because "No one will believe you anyway".
The priest accused his victims of fabricating claims against him to obtain compensation. He also argued that if they were abused by a priest, it was by other known paedophile priests living and working in the area.
Ms Traill said it would have been easier for the men to obtain compensation if they had made allegations against the named convicted paedophile priests.
The priest will be sentenced at a later date.