AUSTRALIA: The Anglican Church has expressed surprise after an 85-year-old former priest was sentenced to just two years in prison for sexually abusing five boys over a 30-year period dating back to 1955 – @AceNewsServices

#AceNewsReport – Feb.11: Serial paedophile Raymond Sydney Cheek targeted young boys across numerous parishes between 1955 and 1985.

In November last year, Cheek was found guilty of committing an act of gross indecency and two counts each of indecent assault and indecent dealings with a child.

Despite maintaining his innocence during the trial, Cheek has since admitted to committing two of the most serious offences.

District Court Judge Ronald Birmingham said Cheek had abused a position of trust and authority he had over the vulnerable children.

He was remanded in custody and will have to spend at least one year behind bars before he becomes eligible for parole.

Judge Birmingham sentenced Cheek to three years’ imprisonment but reduced it to two so it was not a “crushing” life sentence.

Anglican Bishop of Bunbury Allan Ewing said he was expecting a longer sentence.

“I understand from the judge’s comments that he was guided by the need to give a sentence which allowed a person to imagine release, but I was surprised that it was as short as it was.”

Bishop of Bunbury Allan Ewing standing outside a church.Photo: Bishop Ewing says the church has learnt from its mistakes. (ABC News: Roxanne Taylor)

“I am not a legal expert but I am very conscious of the people who have lived with the pain of abuse for decades and I can understand entirely how many would feel that this was a sentence that was light.”

Bishop Ewing has conceded the church had failed to protect the boys, despite becoming aware of rumours of Cheek’s inappropriate behaviour 15 years ago and did not act.

“The church has failed those who suffered the abuse and those who are their families. We need to ensure that it does not happen again,” he said.

“I am shamed as a member of the church that this happened within the church. I offer a complete apology to those who have suffered pain and suffering.”

Church did not pass information to police for years

Judge Birmingham reprimanded the Anglican Church’s response to allegations against Cheek.

One of the victims approached the church about the abuse in 2010 and gave evidence to the Diocese of Perth in 2013.

Two boys stand against a stone wall in a black and white picture.Photo: Allan Lowe (R) outside a church in Albany, the year before he was abused by Raymond Cheek. (Supplied: Allan Lowe)

Cheek was not stripped of his holy orders until 2014. He was charged by police in 2015.

Judge Birmingham said the evidence the victim had given to the church investigator was used against him during the trial.

“There was an attack on the credit of the man … It was asserted that the offences were committed by another clergyman,” he said.

Judge Birmingham also expressed frustration that the church did not inform police about the abuse for two years.

“Had the church referred the matter to police in 2013, at least one witness would still be alive,” he said.

The church has confirmed a complaint was made against Cheek to the Diocese of Perth in 1996, but it was not acted upon by the church at the time as it related to an incident that occurred before Cheek was ordained as a priest.

Short life expectancy taken into account

Close-up shot of priest Raymond Cheek wearing a gold robePhoto: Cheek, pictured in his 50s, was convicted of sexually abusing five boys. (Supplied)

Cheek’s defence lawyer John said his client had a predicted life expectancy of just over of six years and urged the judge to take into account “the terror the offender has of dying in prison”.

Mr Davies argued Cheek had “misguided views” and posed a low risk of reoffending, and said “no human being is beyond redemption”.

But Judge Birmingham rejected the notion Cheek now felt some remorse for his actions.

“You lack any insight into your impacts,” he said.

“Parents believed you over their own children … children were left burdened by your acts.”

Judge Birmingham said Cheek “relied on scripture” to justify his “disgusting, degrading” and “humiliating” behaviour against the boys.

A victim impact statement read out in court outlined the “psychological devastation” the abuse caused.

“I pushed others around me away … I’ve never felt worthy as a person … One night of sexual gratification for you, impacted me my entire life,” one victim said.

Victims, advocates outraged by sentence

Speaking outside court, the wife of one of Cheek’s victims said the short sentence was disgusting and a slap in the face.

“Why shouldn’t he die in prison. Why shouldn’t he rot in prison?” she said.

“This man is going to prison for one year? At least he got something but when you consider what it’s done to the victims’ lives and the judge considers him not dying in prison … I think that is pretty bad.”

Victims advocate Nicki Hide said short sentences could deter other victims from coming forward.

“It is such a hard process even finding the courage to speak up, interviews and then going to trial,” she said.

“The judge talks about it not being a crushing sentence for the offender, [but his] victims have had a crushing life sentence and it just happens time and time again.

“One year is better than no prison time, but it is still way too light.”

Offences spread across state’s south

Cheek’s first offence was in 1955 as a scout leader in the Perth suburb of Wembley, when he molested an 11-year-old boy.

He then moved to Albany where he indecently dealt with an altar boy in the 1960s.

Cheek worked all around the South West including Lake Grace, Margaret River, Pingelly and Bunbury before he abused two boys in Ravensthorpe in 1975 and 1976.

His final victim was a boy in Williams in 1985 who was staying at his house.

He then spent a decade as the priest in charge at an Anglican church in Como from 1991 to 2002.

The case comes at a difficult time for the church, after the Anglican Archbishop of Perth Roger Herft temporarily stood aside in October 2016 to focus his attention on the royal commission’s inquiry into the Diocese of Newcastle.

By Laura Gartry – ABC Australia

Updated earlier today at 8:38am

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