Neil Joseph Byrne

Posted: October 20, 2012 by Serendipity in Photo, Queensland
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http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/suspended-sentence-for-catholic-priest-20120307-1ujv7.html

Suspended sentence for Catholic priest

Marissa Calligeros

March 7, 2012 – 5:52PM

A Catholic priest described himself as a ‘‘tormented’’ man as he pleaded for forgiveness in a Brisbane court today for his offences involving child exploitation material.

Neil Joseph Byrne, 61, whose church was affiliated with a Brisbane primary school, admitted to having sexual fantasies about ‘‘young, blond boys’’, after pleading guilty to eight counts of making child exploitation material and one count of possessing 10 images of child exploitation material.

He was sentenced to nine months in prison, to be wholly suspended, for the offences which occurred over a six year period from August 2005, while he was a priest at The Gap Parish at St John’s Wood, in Brisbane’s inner-west.

Chat logs obtained by police show Father Byrne discussed his sexual fantasies involving children with another person online and requested photographs of a near-naked boy.

During his sentence, Father Byrne requested to speak to the court, where he pleaded for forgiveness from his former parishioners and the wider community.

‘‘[Since] I was confronted nine months ago with the matters that have been articulated in the court here today – the offences which I do not resile from, which I accept full responsibility for, and of which I am ashamed – I have been tormented by two questions,’’ he said.

‘‘Am I a bad person, or am I a mad person?

‘‘I have been unable to answer for myself satisfactorily these questions, which continue to worry me.

‘‘I wish to thank the many hundreds of people who have sent me cards, letters, emails and text messages to remind me of the goodness in me, of what I have dedicated my life to and what I have achieved over these 37 years of active ministry.

‘‘I want to thank them and also at the same time to apologise to them and to many others that I could have within me the capacity for the sorts of actions that have been revealed to us today.’’

Father Byrne sobbed as he pleaded for compassion from Judge High Botting.

Father Byrne was arrested by police of Task Force Argos in May 2011, after New South Wales authorities discovered he had received images of a young boy sexually abused by his parents.

Defence barrister Neville Weston told the court his client had no future as a priest, but that the church was still paying him an annual $11,500 stipend while he was on extended leave.

‘‘The most he can hope for is that he remain on this form of extended leave until he turns 65 and after that he believes the stipend will be terminated and he will have to exist on the old-age pension,’’ Mr Weston said.

Judge Botting cited some 55 character references tendered for Father Byrne, from members of his family and the St John’s Wood parish, in sentencing him to nine months in prison, to be wholly suspended.

 

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