BRIAN Burston was distraught and desperate in July, 1992 when he wrote a letter about his wife and a priest to one of the Hunter region’s most senior Catholic clergymen.
Pauline Hanson’s future One Nation Senate colleague had three young children in 1992, his marriage was on the rocks and the man he blamed – the now convicted Catholic child sex offender priest David O’Hearn – was unmoved by appeals or anger.
“Through his deliberate deception, Father David O’Hearn has almost certainly put an end to my marriage,” Mr Burston wrote to the then Monsignor Allan Hart, in a letter warning that he “feared for others” because O’Hearn’s “words and actions are in total conflict with the teachings of our faith”.
Mr Burston and his former wife Yvonne now agree O’Hearn used his relationship with her – which was close but not sexual – as a cover for his child sex offending. He was just one of a number of Hunter paedophile priests, including Vince Ryan and Denis McAlinden, who used very public friendships with women to hide their crimes.
“He was totally and absolutely responsible for our marriage break-up and it’s weighed heavily on me ever since,” said Mr Burston, who first contacted the Newcastle Herald in 2008 after O’Hearn was stood down over child sex allegations, to detail his warnings to Maitland-Newcastle diocese in the early 1990s about O’Hearn’s abuse of power over vulnerable people.
In 2008 Mr Burston believed the priest had an affair with his wife – despite her strong denials of a sexual relationship – but now accepts O’Hearn’s ostentatious gifts, regular theatre trips, dinners and lunches, lengthy phone calls and visits with Yvonne Burston were a convenient and cynical public cover for his offending.
The priest’s grooming of Yvonne Burston and the diocese’s failure to act can only now be revealed after O’Hearn was found guilty of a final series of child sexual offences in May, and a judge lifted a non-publication order seven years after O’Hearn was first charged. A sentencing hearing is set down for next week.
“I’m delighted he’s been convicted and that there’s finally relief for his victims,” Mr Burston said.
“I hope he gets a very extended time in jail.”
O’Hearn was 33 when he first met Yvonne Burston, 38, after O’Hearn was placed in Cessnock parish in 1990 with another priest who would go on to be convicted of child sex offences, Vince Ryan.
Mr Burston said he and O’Hearn were initially “the best of mates”.
“He was a very charismatic guy. He was happy, jovial, youthful and fun,” Mr Burston said.
O’Hearn enlisted Mrs Burston, a designer, to help with controversial renovations to St Joseph’s Church at Cessnock overseen by Vince Ryan. The controversy was serious enough that it included newspaper articles in which Ryan said he could “feel the hatred” from the community, and others noting graffiti and posters about Ryan’s rumoured relationship with a local woman.
Only five years later Ryan was charged with sexually abusing boys as young as five over the previous two decades, and was eventually convicted of sexually abusing more than 30 young boys.
By September 1991, after O’Hearn was abruptly transferred to Windale, Mr Burston and his wife were regularly arguing about O’Hearn’s gifts, calls and visits. By December 1991 Mr Burston confronted the priest.
“I went down to Windale and said to him ‘This isn’t on. Leave my wife alone’. He said he hadn’t done anything to be ashamed of. He was patronising and aloof. I remember him saying ‘How dare you challenge me?’ I just put him straight.
“I said to him ‘If you weren’t a priest I’d probably biff you by now’. They use the priesthood as a cloak, a protection. They think they’re untouchable.”
Mr Burston said he was pleased, and felt sympathy, when Catholic school principal Mike Stanwell punched O’Hearn in 1999 after a series of clashes between the two men, and before Mr Stanwell was aware of child sex allegations involving the priest.
Mr Stanwell described O’Hearn as a “very manipulative man who’s able to woo people with his personality”. Mr Burston said O’Hearn “invites provocation”.
“I’d be tempted to thump him if I saw him today,” Mr Burston said.
By February 1992 Brian and Yvonne Burston separated. Two months later O’Hearn ceased contact with Mrs Burston. Brian Burston said the priest “effectively left us to self-destruct”.
In another heated meeting between Mr Burston and O’Hearn in April 1992, Mr Burston said his estranged wife was extremely upset and “totally disillusioned” by O’Hearn’s actions, and had stopped going to church.
In his letter to Monsignor Hart in July 1992 Mr Burston quoted O’Hearn saying: “Maybe she needs to go down to the depths of despair. She might be a better person for it, provided she is re-built correctly.”
Yvonne Burston said she felt used by O’Hearn.
“He was a malicious person. I never saw one hint what this guy was up to but I’m glad to see he got his comeuppance. It shows we should look deeper than the collar,” she said.
In a diary entry written in 1992 Mrs Burston wrote about how the priest “sought her out” at church functions in front of people, which caused comment. In their final conversation O’Hearn told her he was “very busy and didn’t have time for personal relationships”.
“I was dismissed,” Mrs Burston wrote. She ordered O’Hearn to leave her house.
She wrote that less than an hour later, and to her horror, Monsignor Hart arrived.
“Father Hart wasn’t interested in the effect all this had on me or my family. It was just ‘David, David, David. How do we save his vocation’?” Mrs Burston wrote.
O’Hearn was convicted of more than 40 offences against six boys from as young as nine at different Hunter locations in the 1980s and 1990s. This followed a legal process over seven years that included a series of appeals by O’Hearn, including an attempted appeal to the High Court. He denied all charges. His record as a priest shows frequent transfers within the region.
Mr Burston said although he was completely unaware of O’Hearn’s offending in the early 1990s, the frequent transfers showed the diocese was aware of significant problems involving O’Hearn.
In his 1992 letter to Monsignor Hart, Mr Burston called O’Hearn a liar who breached the trust between priest and parishioner, and whose “deceit and dishonesty has had a disastrous effect on any possible reconciliation” between himself and his wife.
In 2014 the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry found Monsignor Hart had given “misleading” evidence in relation to his “central role” in the diocese’s handling of allegations against notorious child sex offender priest Denis McAlinden in the early 1990s.
Mr Burston said he hoped O’Hearn’s victims received “quite substantial compensation” from the Catholic Church. He was angry victims were forced to endure years of anguish because of O’Hearn’s complete denial of his crimes.
“It’s extraordinary how these priests can project one image in public, and yet do these abhorrent things behind closed doors,” Mr Burston said.