Bernard Kevin McGrath's five-year jail term for sexually abusing boys at Marylands School in the 1970s brought an angry reaction from people packing out the High Court in Christchurch where he was sentenced yesterday.

"Die, you ... priest," said one man. "What a waste of time," said another as McGrath was led away to the cells.

There was a more measured response on the steps of the courthouse. A man who had been at Marylands and knew the nine men McGrath had abused, said: "I'm not too impressed. This sentence is not going to bring closure for the boys."

The manager of the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust, Ken Clearwater, said he was in shock.

"Five years is a joke. For what that man's done, it's an insult to the victims. I know there will be a lot of men hurting out there at the moment. I hope they have supports in place to help them get through this."

In setting the sentence, Justice Lester Chisholm had to take into account two earlier prison terms - three years in Christchurch in 1993 and nine months in Sydney later - that McGrath received for similar offending.

But he told the 58-year-old Catholic brother that he was sceptical of his claims of remorse and noted that McGrath had received a two-year "discount" on his 1993 sentence for his full and frank admissions of guilt.

With the 21 guilty verdicts in a four-week trial that ended in Christchurch last month, and one guilty plea by McGrath as the trial began, it was now clear that he had not made full admissions in 1993.

McGrath was being sentenced on 13 charges of indecent assault, eight charges of inducing an indecent act, and one charge of doing an indecent act.

The offending related to nine victims at Marylands School where McGrath was a brother, teacher and housemaster. The victims were aged between 7 and 15 at the time.

Some of the convictions were for representative charges that indicated the offending continued over a period. In one case this covered his whole three years and 10 months at the school.

"You were there to be their protector. In truth you were their abuser," said Justice Chisholm.

"They had nowhere to turn, no one to go to. It is no wonder they reacted in such a distressing way when they gave evidence."

Since the offending, McGrath has attended a sex offenders' course in the United States and the Kia Marama programme in New Zealand. He had voluntarily surrendered to the authorities.

"I don't think you should ever be placed, or allow yourself to be placed, in the situation where you are with young people," said Justice Chisholm.

Crown prosecutor Kerryn Beaton said McGrath's sexual abuse had been marked by violence, threats and sometimes cruelty.

Defence lawyer Raoul Neave said the regime at the school at the time had been for severe physical punishment to be meted out to maintain discipline, but he pointed out the jury had accepted that there had been exaggeration of some of the claims.

The jury had found McGrath not guilty on 22 charges, and 10 more were withdrawn or ruled out by the judge during the trial.

Mr Neave said McGrath's prison term would probably not be able to be served in Christchurch because of safety concerns. He would probably be sent to the North Island, away from his family support.

McGrath took ill twice during the trial. He appeared frail yesterday and sat with his head bowed in the dock while legal argument about his sentence took place. He stood when Justice Chisholm handed down the sentence.