An Australian priest who called himself a "mere scumbag pedophile" in a public apology to his victims was sentenced today to nearly 20 years in prison for sexually abusing dozens of boys over two decades as a Catholic school teacher.
John Sidney Denham, 67, pleaded guilty to a range of offenses, including multiple counts of indecent assault on boys 5 to 16 years old. Most of the victims had been students at three schools in New South Wales where Denham taught in the late 1960s, 70s and 80s. Details were reported by several Australian and international news outlets.
The public gallery of a Sydney courtroom burst into applause when the judge sentenced Denham to 19 years and 10 months in jail. That's after District Court Judge Helen Syme took three hours to outline the case against him, calling some of the offenses "sadistic" and saying they "contributed to a culture of fear and depravity" in the schools where Denham taught.
She said the Catholic Church failed to follow up on repeated complaints about Denham, and children tried to leave quickly to avoid him after school. "Denham's on the crawl" is how one former victim described boys alerting one another when the priest was coming for them, according to the Australian public broadcaster ABC. The victim's name wasn't released because he was a minor at the time of the abuse.
The judge described how Denham showed his victims pornographic films and gave them chocolates, alcohol and money to silence them. He asked one young victim to be his "special friend," she said.
"The incident assaults involved multiple children, often significant planning, were frequently sadistic and overall persistent, objectively serious, criminal courses of conduct," Syme told the courtroom.
Denham sat hunched over as his sentence was read out, avoiding the gaze of his victims and their families.
On Thursday, he publicly apologized to his victims in a statement read out in court
"All I can say is, I'm so sorry. I see myself as a mere scumbag pedophile who took advantage of a situation and used my power to abuse young people," Denham said.
Denham has been in custody since 2008. His case was one of the most highly publicized clergy abuse trials in Australia, with one of the largest numbers of victims. In July 2008, Pope Benedict XVI met some abuse victims and issued a public apology.