The most senior clergyman in the world to be convicted of concealing child sex abuse, Adelaide’s Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson, has just been sentenced to 12 months’ detention – but not behind bars.
According to this report, magistrate Robert Stone adjourned Wilson’s case to August 14 while the priest is assessed for home detention. He will be eligible for parole after six months.
In May, the 67-year-old was found guilty of concealing the sexual abuse of children between 2004 and 2006 at the hands of paedophile priest Jim Fletcher in the 1970s – and asked the faithful to pray for him.
In sentencing, the magistrate said:
There is no remorse or contrition showed by the offender. I am of the opinion the sentence should not be suspended. It does not support the terms of general deterrence.
On that basis, the only available remaining option is full-time imprisonment or home detention.
Archbishop Wilson’s sister’s home will also be assessed for home detention ahead of the decision next month.
The court can request an assessment for home detention after sentencing an offender to a term of imprisonment of no more than 18 months.
Wilson is one of the few clerics to have been charged with concealing child abuse and he is believed to be the first Australian clergymen convicted of the offence.
Crown prosecutor Gareth Harrison told Newcastle Local Court during sentencing submissions in June that he could find no other previous cases.
Abuse survivor Daniel Feenan was emotional as Stone delivered remarks about Wilson’s “good character”, shaking his head and blinking away tears.
Throughout the courtroom supporters of abuse survivors also shook their heads in apparent disagreement.
There have been consistent calls among abuse survivors for Wilson to step down as archbishop, but the church has not called for it.
In a statement, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said:
The effects of sexual abuse can last a lifetime, but we hope that today’s custodial sentence brings some sense of peace and healing to those abused by deceased priest James Fletcher.
This CNN report says that Wilson escaped a jail sentence due to his physical condition.
The magistrate told Wilson the reason for his sentence was due to the “the criminality of the concealment” and recognising the “harm done to the community.”
The magistrate noted during his decision that there was now “so much public outcry” regarding child abuse cover up in the Catholic Church and other religious groups.
Therefore I consider it a matter that should be regarded as serious. By concealing abuse it is demonstrating you are placing the needs of the perpetrator above the child.
Wilson did not say anything on leaving court, ignoring repeated questions from the media about whether he would resign or apologise to the victims.
Survivors in the court including victims of Fletcher muttered their frustration the archbishop was not sent to prison. One – Peter Gogarty – said he was “disappointed that it’s not a custodial sentence,” but expressed hope Wilson would be assessed as unsuitable for home detention and end up behind bars.
CNN understands from sources in Rome that Pope Francis will not ask Wilson, who has held his senior post for 18 years, to resign until it is decided if he will appeal.
Gogarty said Wilson should resign, adding that if he does not:
Then the Catholic Church becomes a bigger laughing stock than it already is.
Des Cahil, a professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and adviser to the Australian Royal Commission on child abuse, said Wilson had received:
A just and fair sentence, given the circumstances that he was a young priest at the time, firmly under the influence of a clericalism that says church law prevails over criminal law.
Other victims advocates were less enthused. Chrissie Foster, who is credited with helping to establish the Royal Commission after two of her three daughters were abused by a Melbourne bishop, said it was:
Outrageous. We all understand how clergy perpetrators got away with so many crimes against children and how the trademark coverups of priests like Wilson helped. Today society expects more than a slap on the wrist of those who helped prolong clergy sexual crimes against children.
Wilson was an assistant priest when Fletcher, a Catholic priest based in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, abused altar boys in the mid-1970s.
The Archbishop failed to report the abuse to authorities, allowing Fletcher to remain in the clergy and abuse other children in the following years.
Fletcher was never charged with any offending relating to his behavior in 1976. However, in 2004, he was convicted of eight counts of child abuse and sentenced to 10 years. The eight charges were committed between 1989 and 1991.
Fletcher died in prison in 2006, a year after he sentenced to 10 years. Wilson was charged in 2015, accused of failing to report Fletcher’s abuse to police.
Hat tip: Mark Palmer