News Australasia

Friday 24 May 2019

Bishop sentenced to year's detention for sex abuse cover-up

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson arrives at court for sentencing. Photo: AP
Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson arrives at court for sentencing. Photo: AP

Rod McGuirk

The most senior Roman Catholic cleric to be convicted of covering up child sex abuse was sentenced to 12 months in detention by an Australian court yesterday in a landmark case welcomed by some abuse survivors as a strong warning to institutions that fail to protect children.

Newcastle Magistrate Robert Stone ordered Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson to serve at least six months before he is eligible for parole. But Wilson will not immediately go into custody. Stone will consider on August 14 whether Wilson is suitable for home detention. He could live with his sister near Newcastle.

In May, the 67-year-old cleric was found guilty of failing to report to police the repeated abuse of two altar boys by paedophile priest James Fletcher in the Hunter Valley region north of Sydney during the 1970s.

Wilson faced a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison. Mr Stone said Wilson failed to act against Fletcher because he "wanted to protect the Church and its image".

The sentencing was another step toward holding the Church to account for a global abuse crisis that has also engulfed Pope Francis' financial minister, Australian Cardinal George Pell. Some lawyers said they expected many more clerics to be charged in Australia as a result of Wilson's test case.

One of Fletcher's victims, Peter Gogarty, an advocate for fellow survivors, said he was disappointed that Wilson had walked free from court, but "there is no doubt the archbishop has received a significant sentence".

"We have made history here in Australia: the highest-ranked Church official to ever be brought to account for what we know was a worldwide systematic abuse of children and the concealment of that abuse," Mr Gogarty said.

Wilson did not use the seal of the confession as an excuse for failing to acting on allegations against Fletcher.

Instead, Wilson testified that he did not recall ever hearing allegations against the priest.

Fletcher was arrested on unrelated child abuse charges in 2004 and died in prison of a stroke in 2006 while serving an almost eight-year sentence.

Irish Independent

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