LOU Pirona is a father who must live with the awful sadness of his son’s last words.
“When I was young I was frightened. When I went to school I was bullied and abused by people who should have been nurturing and guiding me.”
The body of John Pirona, 45, of Belmont North, was found in a car at Tomago yesterday morning, five days after leaving the letter his family had always feared, which ended with the words “Too much pain”.
A victim of a notorious Hunter paedophile priest in 1979 when he was 12, John Pirona was sexually assaulted at least one year after both the school principal, Father Tom Brennan, and the late Maitland-Newcastle bishop Leo Clarke were told the priest was a sex offender.
Yesterday, his father, a prominent solicitor and Catholic, said the church had an obligation to “root these people out who prey on others, whether it be through a royal commission or public inquiry”.
Governments should also “force people who don’t have the character and the will to do the right thing” to reveal the truth about the church’s handling of sex-offender clergy.
“We’re just seeing the reality of the failure of a lot of people to look after people who should have been looked after, and that reality is devastating,” Mr Pirona said.
The second of eight children and the eldest son, John was “a lovely man, a big fellow with a very soft heart”, his father said.
“What has happened is a brutal thing for all of us.”
John Pirona’s wife Tracey, who received the news in Adelaide where the couple’s daughter was competing at a national sporting championship, was devastated.
On Wednesday Mrs Pirona said her husband was proud to have reached a point in his life where he could speak in public about being sexually abused as a child, to provide support for other victims.
Yesterday Mr Pirona struggled to find words to describe his grief, and that of his wife, children, extended family and friends.
“We don’t know the extent to which his experiences affected him. He was brutalised by someone who should have protected him.
“He carried it for many years. I just don’t know what was going on in the dark recesses of his mind, notwithstanding the love his family had for him, and the love he had for his family.”
Other victims of the paedophile priest, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were devastated by the news.
Other parents of victims, including Trish and Michael Day who are friends of the Pirona family and whose son attended St Pius X school Adamstown where John Pirona was sexually assaulted, were heartbroken.
A Newcastle man who reported the paedophile priest’s offending to police in 1999, securing convictions the following year despite Father Brennan’s statement that no one had reported the priest’s offending to him, said many of the priest’s victims had already died after tragic lives.
“We’ve lost so many. If this was addressed all those years ago, we wouldn’t be confronted by these sad events now,” the man said.
Bishop Bill Wright, who said yesterday that he was “broadly supportive” of a public inquiry or royal commission into the church’s handling of child sex abuse, said he was personally writing to the family.
“The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle will make no further comment and will endeavour to respect the privacy of a grieving family,” he said.