The sixty-seven-year-old Adelaide Archbishop, Philip Wilson, was convicted yesterday in Newcastle of concealing a historic child sexual abuse case.
As the most senior clergyman in the world to be convicted of covering up the sexual abuse of children, Wilson was spared a prison sentence and rather given six months of home detention, and a subsequent and equal parole period.
The justification for the merciful sentence was that Wilson was not fit for a prison environment, and would likely not survive due to a collection of persistent health complications and the prospect of being attacked by violent inmates.
In sentencing, Magistrate Robert Stone 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”.
Abuse survivor, Peter Creigh, who was repeatedly abused by paedophile priest James Fletcher during the 1970’s and denied help by Archbishop Philip Wilson, contended that Wilson ought to be imprisoned as a deterrent and warning to religious leaders that institutional cover-ups will not be tolerated – a well-founded assertion given Creigh’s teenage experience with Wilson.
Another of Fletcher’s victims, Peter Gogarty, argued that Wilson’s incarceration would clearly show the court’s will to act, and empower other victims to speak up, saying that “the deterrent effect of a custodial sentence will mean that children across the globe are safer… we have made history here in Australia… the highest-ranking 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”.
With widespread calls for the Catholic Church to more strongly declare its stance against child sex abuse and its dedication to rehabilitation and counselling for victims, it will be interesting to see how officials respond to Wilson’s sentence.
The uncovering of historic institutional abuse has been met with a great loss of public confidence in the Catholic Church, and to many, it remains to be proven that the judiciary and the Catholic Church are wholeheartedly dedicated to weeding out offenders and providing assistance to victims.