Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson was found guilty in May of failing to report to police the abuse of two altar boys by a pedophile priest in the 1970s.
Magistrate Robert Stone in Newcastle Local Court today sentenced the 67-year-old to 12 months’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of six months.
However, he ordered that Wilson be assessed for an intensive corrections order which would allow him to serve his sentence in the community, adjourning the matter until August 14.
He is likely to serve six months of his sentence in home detention, with the remainder on parole.
“The whole of the community is devastated in so many ways by the decades of abuse and its concealment,” the magistrate said of institutional child sex abuse generally.
“We are all the poorer for what has occurred.”
Several people in the packed courtroom sighed at the mention of home detention.
Abuse survivor Peter Gogarty said he was a “little disappointed” with the sentence but the fact he has been convicted was still significant.
“My personal view is that is probably letting him off a little bit too lightly,” he told reporters outside court.
Peter Creigh and another altar boy told Wilson in 1976 that priest James Fletcher had repeatedly abused them in the NSW Hunter region but the clergyman did nothing.
Creigh, who was just 10 years old when he was targeted by Fletcher, trusted that Wilson – then an assistant priest – would take action.
The second altar boy, who can’t be named for legal reasons, said he was about 11 when he went into the confessional box to tell Wilson that Fletcher had abused him.
He said Wilson told him he was telling lies because Fletcher “was a good bloke”.
Wilson’s offence related to the 2004 to 2006 period, when Fletcher had been charged with child sex offences and the magistrate found Wilson had obtained the level of belief needed to report what he knew to authorities.
Wilson, who is potentially suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, told his landmark magistrate-only trial that he couldn’t remember being told about the abuse.
He said the conversation with Creigh was unlikely to have occurred, as Creigh during his evidence said he went into graphic details about what Fletcher had done to him.
Wilson agreed under cross-examination that he would have been horrified and would remember the discussion.
But the magistrate rejected Wilson’s claims, suggesting the clergyman knew “what he was hearing was a credible allegation”.
“In addition, the accused wanted to protect the church and its image,” Mr Stone said when convicting Wilson.
Another victim of Fletcher’s, Daniel Feenan, has said that if Wilson had gone to police in 1976, the pedophile priest “would never have got to me”.
Fletcher was found guilty in 2004 of nine counts of child sexual abuse and died in jail of a stroke in 2016.
Wilson has stood aside from his duties in the Adelaide Archdiocese but has not gone as far as resigning.
Bishop Greg O’Kelly, who has taken over Wilson’s duties, released a statement today saying it was inappropriate to make further comment about the case, given proceedings would continue in August.
“However, in such circumstances we should be very aware of the impact on survivors, their families and all those who love them,” O’Kelly said. “I have witnessed the anguish and grief of victims. The Church must continue all efforts to listen and support them.
“I reiterate that our commitment to the safety of every child in our Church and schools is paramount.
“The arrangements made by Pope Francis for my care of the Archdiocese as Apostolic Administrator remain in place.”
– with AAP
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