Archbishop Philip Wilson, a Catholic archbishop in Australia, was convicted in a child sex abuse case in May, and he was sentenced to twelve months in prison for concealing child sexual abuse in the 1970s. Wilson, archbishop of Adelaide, is the most senior Catholic ever to be convicted of the crime. His crime was in covering up abuse by a pedophile priest in New South Wales, but now he is probably going to avoid imprisonment. The court gave Wilson six months of home detention in Australia followed by six months of parole instead of the year in prison to which he was sentenced in May. This decision came as a result of Wilson's age and poor health. He is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
There was a huge public outcry following this case from citizens who wanted to see Catholic church officials held responsible for their crimes and, according to Patheos. Magistrate Robert Stone told Wilson the reason for his sentence was due to the “the criminality of the concealment” and recognizing the “harm done to the community.” The magistrate noted during his decision that there was now “so much public outcry” regarding child abuse cover up in the Catholic Church and other religious groups. “Therefore I consider it a matter that should be regarded as serious,” said Stone. “By concealing abuse it is demonstrating you are placing the needs of the perpetrator above the child.” Judge Stone’s comment suggests that, if there was no public outcry, Wilson would not be sentenced at all.
The verdict in WIlson's case is somehow historical because he is the highest-ranking church official sentenced for his actions involving the concealment of child sex abuse. This was a big step in a world where systematic abuse of children and the concealment of that abuse is happening in churches all around the globe. But if Wilson gets away with only six months of home detention the verdict will be just a piece of paper. When you consider the seriousness of Wilson's crime of failing to report to police that his colleague James Patrick Fletcher abused altar boys in the 1970s, home detention is not a suitable punishment. Wilson, who was then a junior priest in the Maitland region, dismissed young victims in order to protect the Church's reputation, and his colleague Fletcher was later convicted of nine child sexual abuse charges in 2004. Wilson's actions and his refusal to report his colleague were not harmful only to the nine victims but also to other potential victims Fletcher was in contact with.
Besides almost certainly avoiding a jail sentence, Willson has not resigned as archbishop despite relinquishing his duties in the wake of his conviction. Also, as Patheos reports, Wilson refused to answer questions about whether he would resign, or even whether he would offer an apology to the victims whom he put in harm’s way.
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