"Today I am able to confirm and comment on the case of David O'Hearn, a priest of this diocese who has been convicted of multiple sexual abuse offences against teenage boys. O'Hearn has not been in ministry since charges were brought against him in 2008, but by order of the courts no public comment on this case has been permitted before now. He has, in fact, spent most of the last four years in prison.
Investigating and establishing abuse can be extraordinarily complex and difficult, as is demonstrated by the eight years that the investigative and judicial phases of this case have taken up in our criminal justice system. I would like to acknowledge the NSW Police and in particular Detective Sergeant Faber for their dedication and commitment to bringing justice for the victims.
The first allegations of child sexual assault against O'Hearn surfaced in 2008. The Diocese, through Zimmerman House, supported the victim to make a complaint to NSW Police in 2008, who then commenced their investigations. Over the following eight years the Diocese provided healing and support services to many of the men who came forward alleging abuse, as well as their families. That support will continue now these trials are finished.
The Diocese had investigated unrelated, non-criminal allegations in 1995 which were then reinvestigated twice in 2005 by independent investigators, both of whom found that the allegations were 'not sustained'.
The first thing I feel in this matter is, as always, deep, deep regret for the harm that has been done to the boys that O'Hearn abused and their families. Nothing can make up for their pain and loss. All the men who have come forward have shown great courage and, I hope, will receive some element of healing and relief from knowing that they have been instrumental in seeing justice done. Secondly, I feel great shame that another member of the clergy has been guilty of crimes of this kind.
As the series of O'Hearn's criminal trials has now apparently concluded, I will be making the required report on his convictions to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, which has jurisdiction over the question of his dismissal from the priesthood. I had previously set this process in train, and, with the trial concluded, it can now go forward.
I know that each occasion that recalls the history of child sexual abuse in the Diocese is deeply distressing. Our child protection unit, Zimmerman Services, has a dedicated team of experienced professionals committed to providing healing and support to those who have experienced harm. Zimmerman Services may be contacted on (02) 4979 1390, Monday – Friday from 9am – 5pm."
- Bishop Bill Wright
Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle