Parents of paedophile victim tormented by guilt

NO EXPLANATION: Mary and Mike Rounce believe  the church’s failure to act on the abuse contributed to their son’s death. –  Picture by Kitty Hill
NO EXPLANATION: Mary and Mike Rounce believe the church’s failure to act on the abuse contributed to their son’s death. – Picture by Kitty Hill

More than 30 years ago Mary and Mike Rounce told Catholic Bishop Leo Clarke of their concerns about priest and St Pius X teacher John Denham and his behaviour with their son Michael.

On Friday in Sydney District Court Judge Helen Syme sentenced former Hunter paedophile priest John Denham to jail until at least June 2022.

Today the Rounces will tell Maitland Newcastle Bishop Michael Malone how Bishop Clarke’s failure to act, along with many others including St Pius X principal Tom Brennan, contributed to Michael’s death.

Michael Rounce was 19 when he died in a motor vehicle crash, six troubled years after Mrs Rounce flicked open his maths book one day to find drawings about Denham that left her cold with fear.

But it wasn’t until four or five months ago, 25 years after their son’s death and at a meeting of some of paedophile priest John Denham’s 39 known victims, that Mr and Mrs Rounce discovered Michael might have been a target of some of the sadistic priest’s worst offending.

‘‘Michael’s been gone for 25 years but when I heard that, it was as if he’d died that day,’’ Mrs Rounce said yesterday, while weeping at the secrets her son took to his death.

Snatches of conversations with their son from years ago leave Mr and Mrs Rounce sobbing with guilt that they couldn’t see their son’s troubled behaviour, after the age of 12 when he first came in contact with Denham, was linked to sexual abuse by the priest.

Mrs Rounce spoke with her son about Denham many times, but Michael played down the priest’s approaches.

She weeps while recalling a conversation during his later teenage years.

‘‘I said to him, ‘I understand how you feel Michael’ and he said to me ‘No mum, you really don’t’.’’

Mr Rounce can barely speak about a relationship with his son that went from being open and close, to angry and distant.

He feels extraordinary guilt that he didn’t ‘‘see’’ his son was being sexually assaulted by a priest and teacher, in a Catholic school.

‘‘Being a father, you’re supposed to be there for your kids,’’ he said.

Mrs Rounce contacted her local parish priest in 1978 on the day she saw her son’s drawings of Denham in his text book.

She received a phone call from Denham the next day.

‘‘He said something like ‘All this nonsense. I hope it doesn’t mean it’s going to spoil our friendship’,’’ Mrs Rounce said.

‘‘I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t believe it. Then he said he’d be dragged over the mat about it, but he didn’t seem the least bit worried.’’

Mr and Mrs Rounce saw Bishop Leo Clarke in the following week. The bishop did not seem surprised by what he was told.

‘‘I got the impression he was going to handle things,’’ Mrs Rounce said.

Denham remained at St Pius X until January 1981 when he was transferred to Charlestown and then to Taree.

Mrs Rounce sobs about the children who were sexually abused after she spoke to Leo Clarke.

‘‘If we’d gone to the police, all those other boys wouldn’t have been abused. That’s something you carry around with you,’’ she said.

‘‘But we knew nothing about what was happening with other boys. We didn’t know how bad it was until after Denham was charged. Only the church knew what he was doing, and they just moved him on.’’