Hunter priest’s conduct inexcusable: judge

Hunter priest’s conduct inexcusable: judge

James Fletcher was jailed for 10 years. A HUNTER Catholic priest who “preyed” on a vulnerable young boy and sexually abused him
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repeatedly was jailed yesterday for a maximum of 10 years.

Sydney District Court heard that in a “gross and inexcusable misuse of trust” James Patrick Fletcher had ingratiated himself with the boy and his family, had meals at their home and had lured him away at night for sex.

Judge Graham Armitage said the now former Hunter parish priest continued to protest his innocence

in the face of some of the most compelling evidence he had heard from a young victim.

The 64-year-old Fletcher showed no emotions as Judge Armitage sentenced him to serve a maximum of 10 years in jail.

He will not be eligible for parole until June 4, 2012, after which he will have served 7½ years.

Fighting back tears outside the court, the boy’s mother said her son, who did not attend court yesterday, had been “a very extraordinary, brave person” to come forward.

In a typewritten statement, she said her son and family faced a lifelong sentence of recovery.

“No amount of time in prison for this man can restore the joy in faith that was embraced and has now been lost by the victim and his family and the wider Catholic community,” the statement said.

“This man’s assaults on our son were premeditated and evil, and for our family the sentence is lifelong.”

Judge Armitage said Fletcher had been found guilty of nine child sex charges in the East Maitland District Court following a trial by jury in December.

The judge said the charges had alleged Fletcher engaged in acts of homosexual sex and fellatio with the teenage boy in various sites around the Hunter Valley about 15 years ago.

He said the victim had given evidence that on one occasion Fletcher had lured him into his car and driven to a rural area where he had homosexual sex with him in the front seat of Fletcher’s car.

Judge Armitage said the victim told the court he had looked at a St Christopher’s medal in the car during the intercourse hoping the pain would stop.

The judge said the victim told how after the act the he had begun to cry and Fletcher had told him it was a “normal part of life”.

The boy was given a sip from a can of soft drink before Fletcher dropped him near a bus stop and the boy caught a bus to his home.

After another incident Fletcher told the boy not to tell anyone, because no one would believe the boy, as people knew that priests never lied.

The sexual abuse had gone on over two years.

Judge Armitage said Fletcher had ingratiated himself with the boy and family, regularly going to the boy’s house for dinner, and had used his position of trust to prey on the victim, taking advantage of the boy for sexual purposes.

He said the victim had presented as a down-to-earth young man who was truthful.

Fletcher, through his legal counsel, continued to maintain his innocence, the judge told the packed courtroom.

Judge Armitage said when sentencing Fletcher that he had taken into account the former priest’s age, health and the fact he had no previous convictions.

An appeal has been lodged.

Catholic Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle Michael Malone released a statement yesterday afternoon saying he accepted the sentence as the judgement of the court.

Bishop Malone said Fletcher was sentenced after a long investigation of allegations of sexual abuse and a fair trial.

He said it was not appropriate for him to comment on the sentence.

Bishop Malone said his primary consideration was the care extended to the victim.

“Victims of sexual abuse and their families must be supported by their parish and community and not be subjected to victimisation or damaging innuendo,” he said.

“We must not let them be criticised or ostracised for coming forward. In fact, they should be thanked for bringing abuse into the open.”

Bishop Malone said Fletcher would never exercise ministry as a priest again.

“When James Fletcher is released from prison, it is the responsibility of the bishop of the diocese of Maitland-Newcastle to ensure close supervision and careful monitoring of his behaviour,” he said.

A diocesan-wide child protection unit had been established to try to prevent instances of abuse within the church.

“I strongly urge victims of sexual abuse to contact the police,” Bishop Malone said.