Australia’s bishops have expressed hope that the custodial sentence handed down to Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson for concealing child sexual abuse will give “some sense of peace and healing” to survivors.
“It takes great courage for survivors to come forward to tell their stories,” the bishops said in their statement released on 3 July, the same day Archbishop Wilson was sentenced to 12 months’ home detention with a non-parole period of six months.
“Survivors have been vital in helping us learn the lesson of our shameful history of abuse and concealment, which was laid bare in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and state inquiries, including the Cunneen Inquiry.”
Archbishop Wilson was convicted in May of concealing child sexual abuse perpetrated by deceased priest James Fletcher in the NSW Hunter Region in the 1970s.
He stepped down from his role as Archbishop of Adelaide following his conviction, but has not resigned. Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ of Port Pirie was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Adelaide Archdiocese early last month by Pope Francis.
In response to Archbishop Wilson’s sentencing, Bishop O’Kelly issued a statement saying, “… in such circumstances we should be very aware of the impact on survivors, their families and all those who love them. I have witnessed the anguish and grief of victims. The Church must continue all efforts to listen and support them.”
Bishop Bill Wright of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, where Archbishop Wilson grew up, said the conviction and sentencing was “a source of great grief and shock” to the Catholic community of his diocese.
While describing Archbishop Wilson as a “long-time friend and colleague,” Bishop Wright said, “…but in these matters all of us musts rigorously set aside such considerations in the interests of justice and the protection of children.
“Our grief is first of all for the two teenage boys who, the court found, reported abuse by Fletcher to the then 26-year-old Fr Wilson in 1976 and a year or two later.
“Their trust was betrayed when no effective action was taken and they were deprived of the care they should have received at the time.”
Archbishop Wilson’s conviction is historic as he is the only Australian Archbishop to be convicted and sentenced in relation to matters concerning child sexual abuse.
Magistrate Robert Stone said the seriousness of the matter “and the need for a significant element of general deterrence to recognise the harm done to the community and to denounce his conduct” meant the sentence should not be suspended and “that a sentence of imprisonment is the only appropriate sentence”. He has ordered that the Archbishop be assessed to see if he is suitable for home detention and to appear again on 14 August.
Magistrate Stone said there had been “no remorse or contrition shown by the offender”.
The prosecution alleged the Archbishop knew late paedophile priest James Patrick Fletcher had indecently assaulted Hunter Valley man Peter Creigh when he was a 10-year-old altar boy, and that despite knowing that information, he failed to assist police in prosecuting Fletcher.
Mr Creigh told the court that in 1976, when he was 15, he told Archbishop Wilson, then a priest, what Fletcher had done to him years earlier in 1971.
Mr Creigh said he raised the matter again with Archbishop Wilson months later but nothing was done.
In handing down his guilty verdict in May, Magistrate Stone said he found Mr Creigh to be “an honest and reliable witness”.