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Catholic Church

Home detention for ‘remorseless’ Australian archbishop who covered up altar boy sex abuse

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson could serve out sentence at sister’s home

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 2:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 10:28pm

One of the highest-ranked church officials convicted of covering up child sex abuse was Tuesday sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, but Philip Wilson could avoid jail after a court ordered he be assessed for home detention.

The Adelaide archbishop, 67, was found guilty in May of concealing abuse by notorious paedophile priest Jim Fletcher in the Hunter region of New South Wales state during the 1970s by failing to report allegations against him.

He denied the charges and his legal team made four attempts to have the case thrown out, arguing Wilson suffered from Alzheimer’s and so should avoid trial – even though the diagnosis did not prevent him retaining his position in the church.

Newcastle Local Court magistrate Robert Stone found him guilty of concealing a serious indictable offence of another person, concluding his primary motive was to protect the church.

The same court on Tuesday sentenced him to 12 months’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of six months.

But Stone adjourned the matter until August 14 to assess whether Wilson was suitable to serve the sentence at his sister’s home.

The maximum sentence for the crime was two years in jail.

In sentencing, 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,” he added.

“On that basis, the only available remaining option is full-time imprisonment or home detention.”

He justified the home detention option due to Wilson’s age, prior good record and that he was unlikely to reoffend.

There was no dispute during the trial that Fletcher, who is now dead, sexually abused an altar boy, with the hearing focused on whether Wilson, then a junior priest, was told about it.

Wilson served as a priest in New South Wales before Pope John Paul II appointed him Bishop of Wollongong in 1996. Five years later he became the Archbishop of Adelaide.

Following his conviction, Wilson stood down from his church duties pending sentencing, but did not resign.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, a national body used by bishops to address issues of national significance, said it hoped the sentencing could “bring some sense of peace” to those abused by Fletcher.

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 expect many more clerics to be charged in Australia as a result of Wilson’s test case.

Additional reporting by Associated Press