An Australian archbishop has been sentenced to one year detention for concealing historical sexual abuse, becoming the highest-ranking Catholic clergyman to face confinement for a cover-up.
Archbishop Philip Wilson, who has stepped aside but not resigned from his position in the Catholic Church, was sentenced to 12 months detention on Tuesday.
A court had found him guilty of covering up the sexual abuse of children by paedophile priest Jim Fletcher in May, which he allegedly knew about as early as the 1970s.
Wilson will be eligible for parole after six months, and his sister’s home will be assessed as a possible location for home detention before a final location is confirmed by the court on August 14th.
Australian law allows the possibility of home detention for offenders sentenced to fewer than 18 months imprisonment, with the location determined by a court assessment after sentencing.
Magistrate Robert Stone told the court “there is no remorse or contrition showed by the offender. I am of the opinion the sentence should not be suspended.
“On that basis, the only available remaining option is full-time imprisonment or home detention.”
He said the only logical reason for Wilson’s conduct was protecting the Catholic Church.
“There are no other rational explanations for the offender’s conduct.”
Despite calls for his resignation, the church has not commented, thus far, on the future of Wilson’s position in the institution.
Catholic Church reckoning
Wilson’s conviction is the first of its kind, according to Crown prosecutor Gareth Harrison, who said earlier hearings in other cases had not resulted in a guilty verdict.
It could set a legal precedent for other cases in which church officials knew and deliberately concealed historical sexual abuse.
The sentencing comes as Australian Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s third-highest-ranking official, prepares to stand trial on charges of historical child sex offences later this year.
Both Pell and Wilson’s charges are the result of a five-year inquiry into the sexual abuse of children in Australia that ended last year.
It recommended sweeping changes, including the end to mandatory celibacy in the Catholic Church, and ensuring criminal justice responses were available for victims and survivors.
Tens of thousands of children had been abused in various Australian institutions, including the Catholic Church over the last 90 years, the commission estimated.