Australia priest jailed for child sex attacks

John Sidney Denham (Credit: ABC) John Sidney Denham will serve at least 13 years in prison

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A Catholic priest in Australia has been sentenced to nearly 20 years in jail for sex attacks on 25 children over nearly two decades.

John Sidney Denham, 67, pleaded guilty to a range of charges relating to attacks on boys at schools in New South Wales between 1968 and 1986.

The judge said his actions "contributed to a culture of fear and depravity".

Denham apologised to the victims and their families, saying he saw himself as a "mere scumbag paedophile".

He was sentenced to 19 years and 10 months in jail for crimes including sexual acts and indecent assaults against boys aged between five and 16 years old. He was ordered to serve a minimum of 13 years and 10 months.

Pope apology

Judge Helen Syme spent nearly three hours summing up the charges against the priest, The Australian newspaper reports.

Start Quote

It's disgusting, the hierarchy in the Catholic Church”

End Quote Victim's mother

"The incident assaults involved multiple children, often significant planning, were frequently sadistic and overall persistent, objectively serious, criminal courses of conduct," she said.

"The offender's actions contributed to a culture of fear and depravity, especially at the school, which allowed these disturbing offences to occur and then remain unpunished for years."

In a statement, Denham told the court on Thursday: "All I can say is, I'm so sorry. I see myself as a mere scumbag paedophile who took advantage of a situation and used my power to abuse young people."

The victims and their families welcomed the sentence, but said the Catholic Church should be held accountable for what went on.

"He was a horrendous man, really horrendous," one mother said. "It just all goes back on to the families - it's ruined families, siblings. It's disgusting, the hierarchy in the Catholic Church."

The abuse of children by Catholic priests has been a major issue in recent years as victims and relatives have sought justice.

The victims' group Broken Rites Australia says it has received thousands of calls reporting abuse since opening its national telephone hotline in 1993 - and has helped to sentence more than 100 clergymen.

During a visit to Australia in July 2008 Pope Benedict XVI met some of the victims and made a public apology for the abuse.

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