A notorious paedophile priest laughed while he watched boys as young as 6 years old have sex with one another.

One of those boys, Scott Hallett, says he is scarred by what he was forced to do by NSW priest Vincent Ryan but, at the time, he did not realise he was being abused.

"At the time I didn't know what Father Ryan was doing was wrong," Hallett, now 51, told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse this week.

Vincent Ryan spent 14 years in jail for abusing dozens of boys aged between 6 and 14. Photo / Supplied
Vincent Ryan spent 14 years in jail for abusing dozens of boys aged between 6 and 14. Photo / Supplied

It was 1975 and Ryan was routinely abusing alter boys at a primary school in East Gregford, near Dungog, two hours north of Sydney.


The former Catholic priest previously spent 14 years in jail for abusing dozens of boys aged between 6 and 14 during the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

He was released in 2010 but pleaded guilty in April to several new charges, including gross indecency with a male under 18 and attempted sexual intercourse.

Hallett was 9 years old when he thought he was engaging in a game.

"I knew nothing about sex," he said.

"To me, it was just a game and we were just having fun. At some point, I think near the end of 1975, I discussed the incidents with other boys and we agreed to tell our parents."

What happened next is hard to fathom. Hallett says he told the principal and his favourite teacher at St Joseph's Primary School about the abuse. One responded, "Stop asking me about what happened" and the other told him to stop making up stories, according to the Newcastle Herald.

Hallett's suffering continued for years after he was abused. In 1995, he attempted to take his own life.

Ryan pleaded guilty to new charges of abusing children, six years after he was released from Sydney's Long Bay prison.

"I am still very shy and don't feel comfortable talking about the abuse," he said. "Once a child is broken, they can't be fixed."

The Royal Commission is investigating how the Catholic Church in the Maitland-Newcastle region responded to allegations of child sex abuse by clergy. The public hearing, into its second month, resumed on Thursday, at 9.30am.

Late last month, the commission heard how years of abuse was overlooked by senior members of the church. Roger Herft, who was the bishop of Newcastle for more than 10 years, admitted he did not do enough to stop another paedophile priest, Father Peter Rushton, from preying on young boys.

Rushton was accused of owning child pornography and raping a number of children, including a priest's son. He died in 2007 having never been convicted of his crimes.

"In hindsight there are a lot of things I could've done, including speaking to Rushton about these matters," Herft said.

Apart from public hearings, the commission held conversations in private with more than 5500 victims.