Archbishop sentenced to home detention over child abuse cover-up

The most senior Catholic official in the world to be convicted of failing to report child sex crimes to police has been sentenced to a 12-month custodial sentence, likely to be served as home detention.

Sentencing Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson, 67, in Newcastle Local Court today, Magistrate Robert Stone said he should be assessed as to his suitability to serve the sentence at a family member’s home in NSW and adjourned the matter until August 14.

Wilson stood aside but did not resign after being found guilty in May of failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse against paedophile priest Father Jim Fletcher, who died in jail in 2006.

He will be eligible for parole after six months.

In sentencing, Mr 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.”

In light of Wilson’s age, ailing mental and physical health, and the fact that he had nothing else on his criminal record, Mr Stone found he could be adequately punished with a 12-month home detention order.

“Those who conceal abuse and shield perpetrators from prosecution… are placing the needs of perpetrators over their victims and their families,” Mr Stone said.

“Infliction of gross acts of sexual abuse on people who are young and vulnerable.

“Children who are irreparably harmed and parents who are treated with total indifference and contempt.”

Wilson’s defence barrister, Ian Temby QC, had told a sentence hearing in June that his client may not survive jail if his diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and “recurrent falls” worsened amid the risk of violence from other inmates.

He said Wilson had no prior convictions and was a person of previous good character “with particular reference to the general field of prevention of child sexual abuse.”

Peter Creigh, a former altar boy, had told the hearing that in 1976 he told Archbishop Wilson, then a junior priest at St Joseph’s Church, East Maitland, that Fletcher had subjected him to acts of punishment and sexual abuse about five years earlier.

There was no dispute that Fletcher had sexually abused the then 10-year-old, but the hearing focused on whether the conversation between Mr Creigh and Archbishop Wilson took place and whether the Archbishop remembered the allegation and believed it was true between 2004 and 2006.

Archbishop Wilson took the stand in April and said he didn’t remember the conversation and doubted it took place because he wouldn’t have forgotten such “graphic” claims.

Ultimately, Mr Stone believed Mr Creigh and the other prosecution witnesses, Hunter parishioners who went to Wilson for guidance or support and were fobbed off or lied to.

Wilson has not publicly indicated whether or not he is going to launch an appeal.