The Adelaide Archbishop has been sentenced to one year of home detention.
The Adelaide Archbishop has been sentenced to one year of home detention.

Wilson avoids jail for child abuse cover-up

SOUTH Australia's most senior Catholic Church leader has avoided immediate jail - but has been sentenced to home detention for covering up child sex abuse in a world-first decision that will have far-reaching consequences for religious faiths across the globe.

The Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Edward Wilson, 67, was on Tuesday sentenced to 12 months of home detention for staying silent about paedophile priest Father James Patrick Fletcher over more than four decades.

The sentence will have a non-parole period of six months after Magistrate Robert Stone said it was too serious of an offence to suspend.

Archbishop Philip Wilson arrives for sentencing at Newcastle Local Court. Picture: Darren Pateman. AAP
Archbishop Philip Wilson arrives for sentencing at Newcastle Local Court. Picture: Darren Pateman. AAP

Wilson, who has early stages of Alzerimers', faced a maximum two years behind bars after being guilty in May of concealing a serious indictable offence between April 22, 2004, and January 7, 2006.

He is the highest ranking church official worldwide to be successfully prosecuted for failing to tell authorities about child abuse despite his vehement denials and four failed attempts to dismiss the prosecution.

In a sentence that brought hushed gasps from the packed public gallery at Newcastle Local Court - that did not include the case's key victim - Magistrate Robert Stone condemned Wilson's lack of remorse and continued defiance of the truth.

"The whole of the community is devastated in so many ways by the... abuse and concealment by people they trusted and respected," he found.

Wilson, sitting in the public gallery's front row, appeared stunned.

He has never spoken about the case publicly outside court despite the verdict. He gave evidence at trial, during which he vehemently denied the charges.

Wilson has not resigned since his guilty verdict.

He has stood down and asked people to "pray for me". Victims have urged him to quit or for the Vatican to sack him.

Medical reports have revealed a "complex range of conditions" including Alzheimer's, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnoea and "recurrent falls". He has a pacemaker.

In a final, cruel twist, the brave victim whose two-page letter to a senior New South Wales Bishop brought about Wilson's downfall, will miss Tuesday's sentencing due to poor health.

Father-of six Peter Aidan Creigh is recovering in a Newcastle hospital after undergoing open heart surgery, which included a quadruple bypass.

Speaking ahead of the world-first sentence, real estate worker Mr Creigh, 57, told The Advertiser that he was sad to be missing the sentencing hearing but his health was more important.

"I'm disappointed to miss out on this final day," he said.

"But irrespective of the sentencing, the victory was had on the 19th (of) May when Magistrate Stone read out the offence is proved."

Victim Peter Creigh missed Wilson’s sentencing on Tuesday. Picture: Darren Pateman/AAP
Victim Peter Creigh missed Wilson’s sentencing on Tuesday. Picture: Darren Pateman/AAP

His absence came after a whistleblower Catholic Church priest, Father Glen Walsh, 55, took his own life three weeks before Wilson's trial, at which he was due to be a key prosecution witness.

Prosecutors had argued jailing him send a "clear message" that covering up institutional child sex abuse was no longer tolerated, despite fears it could kill him, as they labelled him remorseless and a liar with an "unflinching loyalty" to the church.

But Wilson's lawyers insisted jailing the sick and frail clergyman could "threaten his survival" from stress, or leave him at risk of extreme prison violence.

They had said a bond and conviction is adequate for the "medium" range crime that was akin to a "simple assault" due to his good character, lack of criminal history and poor health.

The court heard during a pre-sentence hearing last month how Wilson was still aggrieved with Magistrate Stone's guilty verdict and that he believed his evidence had not been taken into account.

An appeal is highly likely.

 

Mr Creigh, whose large extended family supported him at trial, had told Wilson in 1976 about Fr "Jim's" abuse when he was a 10 year-old altar boy in the local diocese, north of Sydney.

But Wilson failed to tell authorities about Fletcher's crimes to Mr Creigh and several other altar boys in the 1970s and 1980s.

Fletcher, 65, died in prison in 2006 while serving a 10 year prison term for abusing another young boy, Daniel Feenan, now aged 41.

Mr Creigh's letter about Fletcher's "acts of punishment" to the Most Rev Michael Malone, the former Hunter Valley catholic community, helped trigger the case after authorities discovered it.

 

TIMELINE OF THE CASE

October 1950: Philip Edward Wilson is born in Cessnock, New South Wales.

February to November 1971: Father James "Jim" Patrick Fletcher indecently assaults young altar boy Peter Aidan Creigh, then aged 10, up to 15 times in an East Maitland Catholic Church.

August 1975: Philip Wilson ordained as a priest in Cessnock.

October: Fr Wilson moves to the St Joseph's parish in East Maitland.

April 1976: Mr Creigh alleges he told Father Wilson about Fletcher's sexual abuse after a youth group close to Easter and is told matter will be investigated.

September: Mr Creigh again allegedly raises issue with Fr Wilson after a youth meeting where he is told it is being "looked into". Nothing further occurs.

Late 1976: A second altar boy allegedly tells Fr Wilson during confession how Fletcher also abused him.

Between 1984 and 1987: Fletcher abuses a third altar boy.

December 2001: Father Wilson appointed Adelaide Archbishop.

May 2003: Fletcher is charged with abusing another altar boy.

November 2004: Fletcher stands trial in NSW accused of those crimes.

December: Fletcher is convicted of nine counts of child sexual abuse.

April 2005: Fletcher is jailed for 10 years.

September: His appeal against conviction is dismissed.

J anuary 2006: Fletcher dies in prison aged 65.

November 2009: Mr Creigh tells his family for the first time about Fletcher's abuse.

July 2010: He tells his local Bishop about the abuse and the pair meet the next month. The Bishop later writes to Mr Creigh outlining what support he would offer.

February 2013: Mr Creigh first interviewed by police before giving a second statement two months later.

June 2014: Archbishop Wilson give evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

March 2015: Detectives from a special NSW Police strike force charge Archbishop Wilson with covering up child sex abuse. He becomes the highest-ranking Catholic Church official to face court charged with such a crime. He publicly denies the charges.

May 2015: The case has its first hearing in Newcastle.

October 2016: The NSW Supreme Court dismisses the Archbishop's application for a permanent stay of proceedings.

June 2017: The Full Court of the Supreme Court also dismisses his subsequent appeal.

November 6: Key prosecution witness Father Glen Walsh dies, three weeks before the Archbishop's trial.

November 28: The Archbishop fails to travel to Newcastle as his Alzheimer's diagnosis is made public amid concerns for his health, including having a pacemaker installed.

December 6: The trial starts at Newcastle Local Court.

April 10 2018: The trial resumes and Wilson makes his fourth failed attempt to have the prosecution dismissed. He then takes the stand in his own defence.

A pril 13: The trial concludes.

April 17: The Advertiser reveals how one prosecution witness alleges he had been threatened with reprisals.

May 22: Magistrate Robert Stone convicts Wilson of concealing child sex abuse.

J uly 3: Wilson is sentenced to XXXX