The highest-ranking Catholic official to be convicted of covering up child sex abuse has been spared prison, sparking anger from victims and abuse advocates.
The 67-year-old cleric showed no reaction as Magistrate Robert Stone told the packed courtroom at Newcastle Local Court that “subject to assessment”, Archbishop Wilson would spend six months of the sentence in home detention, with the further six months spent on parole.
“It’s basically a holiday,” one female member of the public in court said loudly as the hearing concluded.
Archbishop Wilson, who will attend a further hearing on August 14 to confirm where he will spend his sentence, is the most senior Catholic figure in the world to be convicted of concealing child sex abuse.
He has held the position of Archbishop of Adelaide for the past 17 years.
In May, the 67-year-old was found guilty of concealing the sexual assault of children between 2004 and 2006, at the hands of paedophile priest Jim Fletcher in the 1970s.
— Lucie Morris-Marr (@luciemorrismarr) July 3, 2018
Magistrate Stone said he took into account the age and ailing health of the Archbishop, who has stood down from his position but has not yet resigned.
However, he also stressed the seriousness of the conviction saying his sentence reflected the “criminality of the concealment and recognised the harm done to the community”.
Leading advocates, including survivors of Fletcher’s crimes said they were “very disappointed” that it seemed almost certain Wilson will not be incarcerated in prison.
Peter Gogarty, one of Fletcher’s victims, said outside court he felt Wilson had “got off lightly”.
He conceded however the sentence “made history” in Australia.
“He’s the highest-ranked church official to have been brought to account for what we know is worldwide systematic abuse of children and concealment of that abuse,” he said.
At a hearing two weeks ago Wilson’s defence team argued imprisonment could worsen Wilson’s many chronic illnesses, that included diabetes, heart and Alzheimers disease and depression, and may put him at risk of assault from fellow inmates.
However, leading abuse advocate and author Chrissie Foster told The New Daily she believed the fact Wilson is likely to serve his detention at home in Adelaide was “outrageous”.
“Given what we have learnt through the Royal Commission and the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry we all understand how clergy perpetrators got away with so many crimes against children and how the trademark coverups by priests like Wilson helped,” she said.
Two of Mrs Foster’s three daughters were repeatedly abused by a Melbourne school Catholic priest while they were at primary school.
“Today, society expects more than a slap on wrist of those who helped prolong clergy sexual crimes against children,” she said.
During Wilson’s trial the court heard how Peter Creigh and another altar boy told the then-assistant priest in 1976 that Fletcher had repeatedly abused them, but the clergyman did nothing.
In a statement after the sentencing, Mr Creigh, who could not attend for health reasons, said the Wilson scandal had “rocked the church and shocked the world”.
“For now let’s trust that we see some positive change and some assertive leadership from within the organisation that has betrayed society on such a huge scale and failed to protect the vulnerable,” he said.
In a statement, Bishop O’Kelly, who was appointed by Pope Francis as the Apostolic Administrator of the Adelaide Archdiocese after Wilson stood aside from his duties last month, said he would not comment on the sentencing itself.
However he said he was “aware of the impact on survivors”.
“I have witnessed the anguish and grief of victims,” he said.
“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.’
He added that arrangements made by the Pope for him to stand in for Wilson remain in place, suggesting there is no immediate intention for Wilson to resign.
The New Daily understands the Pope is waiting to see if Wilson decides to appeal until he decides whether to ask him to resign.
In a statement by the Australian Catholic Archbishops Conference they said they hoped the sentencing brings some sense of “peace and healing” for those abused by Fletcher.
“It takes great courage for survivors to come forward and tell their stories,” the statement said.
“Survivors have been vital in helping us learn the lesson of our shameful history of abuse and concealment.”
The statement added that the Catholic Church are seeking to put in place “strong and consistent standards” of safeguarding throughout Australia.