Home detention for Adelaide Archbishop

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
3 Jul 2018

Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide has been sentenced to 12 months' home detention with a non-parole period of six months.

He was convicted in May of concealing child sexual abuse by now deceased priest James Fletcher in the NSW Hunter Region in the 1970s.

In response to today's decision the Catholic bishops of Australia said that while the effects of sexual abuse can last a lifetime, they hoped that the custodial sentence brings some sense of peace and healing to those abused by Fletcher.

The bishops said it takes great courage for survivors to come forward to tell their stories and that survivors have been vital in helping them learn the lesson of their shameful history of abuse and concealment, which was laid bare in the Royal Commission into Institutional Reponses to Child Sexual Abuse and state inquiries, including the Cunneen Inquiry.

They added that the Church has made substantial changes to ensure that abuse and cover-up are not part of Catholic life and that children are safe in our communities.

We will continue to work with all those in the Church and beyond who are seeking to put in place strong and consistent standards of safeguarding throughout Australia, including how we respond to allegations of sexual abuse, they said.

Although Archbishop Wilson, who has currently stepped aside from his role but not resigned, will not go to jail, his conviction is historic: he is the only Australian Archbishop to be convicted in relation to matters concerning child sexual abuse.

"Given the seriousness of the matter I am of the opinion that the sentence should not be suspended," said Magistrate Robert Stone in handing down sentence. "The appropriate sentence is 12 months".

The sentence, which has a 6-month non-parole period, is to be served in home detention if approved. This will be determined at hearing on August 14.

Magistrate Stone said there had been "no remorse or contrition shown by the offender".

The prosecution alleged the Archbishop knew Fletcher had indecently assaulted Hunter Valley man Peter Creigh when he was a 10-year-old altar boy, and that despite knowing that information, he failed to assist police in prosecuting Fletcher.

Mr Creigh told the court that in 1976, when he was 15, he told Archbishop Wilson, then a priest, what Fletcher had done to him years earlier in 1971.

Mr Creigh said he raised the matter again with Archbishop Wilson months later but nothing was done.

In handing down his guilty verdict in May, Magistrate Stone said he found Mr Creigh to be "an honest and reliable witness".

Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Greg O'Kelly of Port Pirie as Apostolic Administrator of the Adelaide archdiocese.