Archbishop Phillip Wilson sentenced to 12 months’ detention for his role in child abuse

After that verdict, abuse survivor Peter Gogarty said the decision was “one of the most significant days in criminal law in Australian history.

“I think this will now open the doors for other jurisdictions to start looking at trying to prosecute people who deliberately looked after their institution and, literally, threw children to the wolves,” Gogarty said.

Now magistrate Robert Stone has handed down a 12-month sentence for Wilson.

It will either be served in full-time imprisonment or home detention depending on an assessment of Wilson’s health. Stone has adjourned the matter to 14 August while Wilson’s health is assessed and it is considered likely he will serve the time in home detention, possibly in his sister’s house.

Defence barrister Ian Temby QC had argued that Wilson may not survive being jailed as he suffers from chronic illnesses and would be a target for violence from other inmates.

Wilson’s crimes took place in the Hunter region of New South Wales during the 1970s when he was an assistant parish priest. A court found he did not report his colleague James Fletcher’s abuse of two altar boys to the authorities.

Instead, he told the young victims they were lying and ordered one to say Hail Marys in penance. In 2004, Fletcher was convicted of nine charges of sexually abusing children. He has since died in jail.

In sentencing, Stone said Wilson had shown “no remorse or contrition,” and as such a suspended sentence would not be a strong enough deterrent.

Stone also said Wilson had primarily been motivated by a desire to protect the Catholic Church.

“There are no other rational explanations for the offender’s conduct.”

Victims respond to the sentencing

Peter Gogarty said the 12-month sentence is ” probably letting him off a little bit too lightly,” and that he was “disappointed that it’s not a custodial sentence”.

Gogarty said he was at least glad the Archbishop had been convicted and sentenced for his crimes.

“One way or the other, the Archbishop has been convicted of concealing the abuse of children,” he said.

NSW Police Detective Sergeant Jeffrey Little said the survivors “have shown great honour, strength, courage and dignity throughout this whole case”.

A historic sentencing decision

Wilson is believed to be the most senior clergyman in the world to be convicted of concealing child sex abuse.

After the decision in May, Walter Robinson, the investigative reporter who uncovered widespread child sex abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic Church in Boston (as portrayed in the Oscar-winning Spotlight) said jail terms for the offenders would send a strong message.

“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 told ABC News.

“The people who made this possible have essentially ended up getting off scot-free. For the church, there has been no downside for the bishops or the cardinals who have allowed this to happen for so long.

“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.”

Wilson stepped aside from his duties as Archbishop after being convicted in May but has not yet resigned.

In December 2017, the Royal Commission into Insitutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse handed down its final report. It heard from thousands of victims of sexual assault. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has promised to deliver a national apology to the survivors, victims and familiies of insitutional sexual abuse.

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