Australian archbishop avoids prison after concealing child abuse

Philip Wilson was sentenced to 12 months for covering up sexual abuse of children by priest from the Catholic Church.

    Philip Wilson helped conceal sexual abuse by a priest in the 1970s [Peter Lorimer/AFP]
    Philip Wilson helped conceal sexual abuse by a priest in the 1970s [Peter Lorimer/AFP]

    A former Australian archbishop found guilty of concealing the sexual abuse of children in the 1970s will not have to serve his sentence in prison and was allowed to do it at home instead.

    Philip Wilson, 67, was sentenced to one year in jail for helping cover up crimes by priest Jim Fletcher in the Hunter region of New South Wales state.

    Magistrate Robert Stone ruled on Tuesday that Wilson will not need to spend time behind bars, with his age and prior good record taken into account.

    Wilson will be detained at his sister's house for at least six months before he is eligible for parole. He will have to wear a tracking device during that time.

    Wilson, who was found guilty in May, became one of the highest-ranking Catholic Church officials to be convicted of covering up child abuse.

    "It is a landmark case, he is the most senior person in the world to be convicted, but I have to say our laws in Australia are inadequate for these shocking crime," lawyer Judy Courtin told Al Jazeera.

    "The maximum sentence would be two years in prison, but we got to understand that when these laws were made they were not made with concealing child sex crimes in mind," she added.

    Courtin explained that for someone to be convicted of concealing a crime, three requirements need to be met.

    "In Victoria, we have to prove that a person not only concealed and covered up serious crimes, the conceailed information must have lead to a prosecution," Courtin said.

    "The third element that must be satisfied is that that person must have received some sort of benefit," the lawyer added.

    "Sure, this is great but we have a long way to go."

    Demanding apologies

    Fletcher's victims blamed Wilson not only for covering up his crimes, but also for showing no remorse and failing to apologise.

    "Any words for me, Philip? Philip will you say sorry for what you have done to me and other child sex abuse survivors?" yelled victim Peter Gogarty outside the court. "Philip, please, something ... one word of contrition."

    Another victim, Daniel Feenan, also criticised Wilson for failing to say sorry. "I'd like to see him show some type of remorse and I'd like to see him apologise," he told local media.

    Wilson, however, failed to address his critics.

    He quit his job as an archbishop after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on the Vatican to sack him. He remains an ordained bishop, but has no official role. Pope Francis accepted Wilson's resignation last month after mounting pressure. 

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    Wilson helped conceal sexual abuse of at least one altar boy by Fletcher, who is now dead. More victims have come forward since.

    Bishop Greg O'Kelly, the Adelaide archdiocese until a new archbishop is appointed, said Wilson was "in his prayers as he formally commences this stage in his life, while also remembering the victims and survivors of abuse in the church".

    Catholic Church at a crossroads

    Inside Story

    Catholic Church at a crossroads

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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