It took almost 40 years, but justice finally caught up with disgraced former Catholic priest Kelvin Sharkey yesterday when he was sentenced to a minimum 15 months’ jail.
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The altar boy he serially sexually abused and raped as a teenager all those years ago watched with emotion from the back of Wollongong District Court as the frail 83-year-old, reliant on a walking frame, was led away by Correctives Services officers.
When handing down sentence on Mr Sharkey, Judge Paul Conlon said the former priest had grossly abused his position of trust.
“He then rather cruelly secured the victim’s silence by threatening that he would go to hell if the boy told his mother and father. By virtue of this threat he succeeded in placing the heavy burden of guilt on this young person’s shoulders,” Judge Conlon said.
Yesterday afternoon, Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Wollongong Peter Ingham issued his second statement this year on the matter, saying he was “deeply saddened by the abuse perpetrated by Sharkey and the betrayal of the sacred trust placed in him as a priest”.
“I again offer my sincere apology to the victim and all concerned for the pain they have experienced,” he said.
Mr Sharkey was the parish priest at St John Vianney’s Church, Fairy Meadow, and the victim a 10-year-old altar boy from a devout Catholic family, who regularly assisted the priest with Sunday mass.
After a mass towards the end of the 1969 school year, Mr Sharkey assaulted the boy inside the church, telling the terrified victim it was all right because “this is what we do”.
He later warned his victim that he would go to hell if he told anyone about the assault.
Sexual assaults continued until Sharkey was transferred to St Bernard’s Church in Batemans Bay on December 10, 1971.
In 1972, during a visit to Wollongong, Mr Sharkey spotted the victim who was now attending high school and offered to give him a lift home.
Threatening to expose their activities, Mr Sharkey convinced the victim and his parents to allow him to visit Batemans Bay during the September school holidays.
On the second night of the visit, Mr Sharkey climbed naked into the victim’s bed and raped him, telling him to “settle down and relax” when the boy protested.
A further act of buggery on the victim occurred again some years later when he was 15 or 16 years of age, and sometime between 1974 and 1975, he was sexually assaulted at Sharkey’s home for the last time.
Judge Conlon said Mr Sharkey clearly had exploited a vulnerable child for his own sexual gratification.
He said the three charges to which Sharkey pleaded guilty were representative of a continuing course of sexual conduct toward the victim.
“When dealing with this type of sexual offending, the issue of the offender’s prior good character is of little weight because the offender committed these crimes behind the cloak of respectability,” he said.
Mr Sharkey will be released from jail on July 28, 2011.