The New South Wales magistrate who found Adelaide’s Archbishop Philip Wilson guilty of concealing child sex abuse has reserved his sentencing decision for another two weeks.
Magistrate Robert Stone told Newcastle Local Court on Tuesday (19 June) that he would deliver his decision on whether to send the 68-year-old Archbishop to jail on 3 July. The maximum prison term for the offence is two years.
The court heard submissions from the prosecution and the defence, the former arguing that a prison term would send “a strong message”, while the latter gave details about Archbishop Wilson’s poor health and expressed concerns about how safe he would be in custody.
Archbishop Wilson’s bail has been extended until the next court hearing.
He stood down as leader of the South Australian capital’s Catholics after he was found guilty by Mr Stone on 22 May and initially named Vicar-General Fr Philip Marshall to act as Administrator of the Adelaide Archdiocese. But the Vatican appointed the leader of South Australia’s only other diocese, Jesuit Bishop Greg O’Kelly of Port Pirie, to the additional role of Apostolic Administrator of Adelaide on 3 June.
Archbishop Wilson was convicted of failing to report to authorities that in 1976, when he was an assistant priest in his home diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, he had been told by 15-year-old Peter Creigh that he (Creigh) had been abused by Fr James Fletcher in the early 1970s. The Archbishop was charged in 2015 with failing to report the matter in 2004 after Fletcher, who was to die in prison in 2006, was charged with sexual abuse.
Defence barrister Ian Temby, QC, urged Mr Stone to place Archbishop Wilson on a good behaviour bond, submitting that a recorded conviction and imposition of a bond were adequate and that “no prison sentence is called for”.
Mr Temby warned that Archbishop Wilson had not been convicted of a sex offence and there was no suggestion he was involved in any of Fletcher's offending, “but he may be viewed in the prison population as a sex offender… and thus seen as a target".
Submitting a number of medical reports detailing the Archbishop’s ailments including diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, as well as a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, Mr Temby said the risk to Archbishop Wilson in prison “would impact substantially on the Archbishop's health and well-being and may even threaten his survival”.
He said the Archbishop was a man of prior good character, particularly given his work as a Church leader in the prevention of child sexual abuse and the protection of children.
But Crown Prosecutor Gareth Harrison told the court that facilities were available in jail to care for people with medical problems and that imprisonment for the Archbishop was the only way to send a "strong message".
"He lied,” Mr Harrison said of Archbishop Wilson. “And the root of each of those lies is the unflinching loyalty that he has to the Catholic Church and protecting it at all costs.
"This wasn't a split-second decision to conceal something, this was a decision which was made over a period of time when there was an opportunity for rational contemplation.
“We’ve gotten to a stage where the courts and the community will no longer accept or tolerate the endemic cover-up of sexual abuse by adults on the most vulnerable members of the community.”
Mr Harrison produced documents showing that 16 per cent of those convicted of concealing a serious indictable offence received a full custodial sentence.
Mr Stone, in adjourning the matter, questioned whether Archbishop Wilson could be placed on an Intensive Corrections Order, a sentence served in the community, given that he lived outside the State of NSW.
Abuse survivor Mr Peter Gogarty said outside the court that it was “completely untenable” for Archbishop Wilson to say he was too unwell to serve a custodial sentence while telling Adelaide Catholics a few months ago that he intended to stay on as Archbishop for another eight years.