The man who led the investigation into the systematic protection of child abuse in the Catholic church in Boston in the early 2000s, says a prison sentence for archbishop Philip Wilson would send an important message.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on May 23, 2018

In a landmark verdict on Tuesday, Adelaide archbishop Philip Wilson was found guilty of concealing child sexual abuse during the 1970s in the Hunter region of New South Wales.

It makes him the most senior Catholic official in the world to be charged and convicted of the offence.

Wilson was accused specifically of covering up the abuse of four boys by paedophile priest James Fletcher, who died in prison in 2006.

One of the survivors, Peter Creigh, told reporters that he hoped the decision would “unravel the hypocrisy, deceit and abuse of power and trust” displayed by the Catholic church.

A former NSW police detective chief inspector, Peter Fox, who was with the victims and their families when the verdict was delivered, added: “It’s a major turning point… It’s been very difficult for so many of these witnesses; I can’t tell you how difficult it’s been. I am confident this will make waves in the Vatican.”

It’s been very difficult for so many of these witnesses; I can’t tell you how difficult it’s been. I am confident this will make waves in the Vatican.

Spotlight on the Catholic church

The protection of paedophilia within the Catholic church was brought to the fore by an investigative team of journalists at the Boston Globe, known as Spotlight, in the early 2000s.

They discovered and reported that priests accused of abuse were being systematically transplanted into other parishes in the district.

The team was headed by Walter “Robbie” Robinson, and the 72-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner is now the Globe’s editor-at-large.

Robinson was played by Michael Keaton in the 2015 big screen adaptation — ‘Spotlight’.

Robinson says a prison sentence has to follow

Speaking with ABC News, the newspaper luminary said he’d been following the magistrate-only trial of Wilson intently from the other side of the world.

He said the higher-ups in the Church who’ve facilitated the institutional abuse have not been held to account, which is why he sees this verdict as being so momentous.

“It’s almost unheard of for a bishop or an archbishop or a cardinal to be held personally or criminally responsible and that’s a damn shame,” Robinson said.

“The people who made this possible have essentially ended up getting off scot free.”

Prosecutor Gareth Harrison is now pressing for the maximum custodial sentence of two years, and Robinson says it would set an important precedent.

“For the church there has been no downside for the bishops or the cardinals who have allowed this to happen for so long,” he said.

“My opinion would be that it’s a good thing that some of them should be thrown in prison because I think that alone might force the church to confront the abuse of children and do something emphatic to bring that to an end.”

Sentencing is scheduled to begin on 19 June.

Meanwhile, Australia’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, will have to face trial over a string of alleged historical sexual offence charges, after magistrate Belinda Wallington concluded the month-long committal hearing has produced enough evidence to push forward.

Pell, who is also the Vatican treasurer, has formally pleaded not guilty.