Convicted paedophile priest David O'Hearn was "a public holy man and a private crime figure'

Jailed: Convicted child sex offender Catholic priest David O'Hearn.

Jailed: Convicted child sex offender Catholic priest David O'Hearn.

NOTORIOUS Hunter paedophile priest David O’Hearn was “like a standover man in his local community”, a judge has told a Sydney court.

Judge Richard Cogswell said O’Hearn, 55, had the public profile of a holy man but in private was “a major criminal”.

Judge Cogswell is sentencing O’Hearn who was found guilty of 44 child sex offences against six boys in the Hunter in the 1980s and 1990s.

His victims are in the court – several in tears – as Judge Cogswell described O’Hearn’s offences against them. O’Hearn used wrestling as a “deliberate and calculated” way of engaging sexually with boys who were vulnerable, or from devout families.

He committed offences “under the guise or cover of a legitimate sporting activity”.

Judge Cogswell described shocking examples of O’Hearn’s manipulation of both the boys he abused, their families and the community.

In one case O’Hearn falsely told a boy’s parents that the boy had told the priest his father put a saddle on his back and rode him around the yard.

“The boy himself denied ever saying anything like that to O’Hearn,” Judge Cogswell said.

“I accept that O’Hearn did in fact provide that false account to the boy’s parents. It showed a degree of planning and manipulation of the boy and his parents. It was a highly manipulative attempt to poison the boy’s parents’ opinion of the boy, which meant the parents would be less inclined to believe the boy if he complained about O’Hearn’s abuse.”

Judge Cogswell read out victim impact statements from five of O’Hearn’s victims, including one in which a victim said his Hunter Catholic high school called the priest to perform an “exorcism” on him because he had been branded a troublemaker and evil.

The victim described O’Hearn’s “exorcism” as disgusting.

The abuse had had a profound impact on his life, but the court process had been beneficial, although draining, “because I have been believed”.

Judge Cogswell read one victim’s statement in which he praised Hunter police investigating child sexual abuse, including Detective Kristi Faber and her team including Detective Todd Clayton.

Their compassion and determination had given him faith, the victim said.

The sentencing continues.