Former Catholic priest David Joseph Perrett, 82, facing trial on more than 130 sexual abuse charges has been bailed after being described as a "spent volcano" who may have only six months to live.
Wheelchair-bound with a walking stick across his lap, Perrett faced the NSW Supreme Court via audio-visual link from Long Bay prison hospital last week after being charged with abusing 37 children over more than 20 years.
The court heard the retired clergyman's treating doctor had given him between six and 12 months to live due to a number of health conditions, but Crown prosecutor Brendan Campbell said that, according to notes, Perrett was faring better than he had in recent years.
He urged Justice David Davies against bailing the former Armidale priest, who left the church after pleading guilty to similar allegations in 1996 in a separate case. He went on to settle in Wallangarra before his arrest and extradition to NSW in 2017.
The charges - which include indecent assault, aggravated sexual assault and carnal knowledge - relate to Perrett's time working as a priest in Armidale, Walgett and Guyra between 1969 and 1993.
He was originally granted bail before his freedom was automatically revoked after 30 fresh charges were laid in August 2018, including for the alleged rape of two girls, aged five and eight.
Since then more charges have been laid, with the count now standing at 131.
Mr Campbell said the new allegations against Perrett were almost identical in nature to one another, raising the "very real risk of re-offending".
"There is a particular proclivity that the applicant, by his own admission, has given way to," Mr Campbell said.
"If he's given an opportunity, he may well act on it."
But Justice Davies said he was "really struggling with the notion" that Perrett would reoffend.
"He's now in his 80s; he's obviously seriously ill," he said.
"It doesn't appear to me that he's a considerable risk of harming anybody."
Echoing Justice Davies' sentiments, Perrett's barrister, Greg Woods QC, said his client was "so old and ill that it's highly unlikely in the extreme that there's any prospect of him committing any further offences".
This man is, with respect, a 'spent volcano'.Barrister Greg Woods QC
"This man is, with respect, a 'spent volcano'," Mr Woods said.
In arguing for his client's release, he said Perrett needed to be able to visit the numerous sites around north-west NSW where the alleged offences took place, including churches, orphanages, camps and sporting events.
Mr Woods said visiting the various locations could help Perrett recollect certain events to assist him in his defence.
But Mr Campbell said the locations of the alleged offences, including bush camps, were now likely to be significantly different.
"It does have, in my submission, the feel of a fishing expedition," he said.
Mr Woods said it was difficult for Perrett's legal team to receive instructions from him, as he was often breathless, and that there was a prospect the trial would not begin within the next year.
"However many it be, in the first instance, we need the opportunity of preparing the case properly and defending against these old charges," he said.
He said that in the current case there was no plea of guilty.
"It's disputed that these events occurred."
In bailing Perrett, Justice Davies spoke of Perrett's ill health and the unlikelihood of him reoffending.
"I do not entertain any concerns that he will fail to appear when required to do so," he said.
Perrett has been bailed on a number of conditions, including not to be knowingly in the presence of a child under 16.