Archbishop convicted of concealing child sex abuse should spared jail time, lawyers argue

By Nancy Notzon
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
June 19, 2018

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson leaves court after a sentencing hearing.

Peter Creigh, who told Wilson he was abused, said he needs to resign not just stand down.

Daniel Feenan, who was the victim of abuse, says Wilson is capable of going to jail.

Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson will be sentenced next month for concealing historical child sex abuse after a magistrate reserved his decision at a hearing today.

The Adelaide Archbishop's lawyers presented several reports from various doctors detailing his medical conditions including diabetes, heart disease and a mild neurological cognitive disorder, which could possibly be Alzheimer's.

They told the Newcastle Local Court that prison time would exacerbate his deteriorating health and that he could be targeted in prison.

His defence lawyer Ian Temby QC said: "He's a relatively old man in poor health and a custodial sentence would be unusually hard upon him as appears in the medical testimony."

Quoting a report from endocrinologist Dr David Torpy, Mr Temby said incarceration would have a major effect on Wilson's health and "may even threaten his survival".

In a landmark magistrate-only trial in May, Wilson was found guilty of covering up abuse by priest James Fletcher in the New South Wales Hunter region in the 1970s.

He is the world's most senior Catholic to be convicted of the offence.

Mr Temby told the court during Tuesday's hearing that Wilson's safety could be at risk if he was jailed.

"He's not been convicted of a sex offence and there's 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".

Prosecutor pushes for jail sentence

Prosecutors are seeking a prison term for Wilson, arguing it was the only way to send a "strong message".

"The crown's submission is that there is a strong need for denunciation and general deterrence in this case," crown prosecutor Gareth Harrison told the court.

"He lied. 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.

"What we have here is a motivation to protect an institution over an extended period of time."

Mr Harrison said Wilson lacked remorse and contrition.

"He thought he'd gotten away with this ... for all those years he thought he'd gotten away with it."

The maximum penalty Magistrate Robert Stone can hand down is two years' jail.

But Mr Temby argued that Wilson's conviction alone was enough of a general deterrent and jail time was not necessary to send a strong message, asking instead for Wilson to be placed on a bond.

"The fact that my client was charged and has been convicted and is to be sentenced, those facts have reverberated around the world, at least in religious circles.

"This is a matter of worldwide interest."

The prosecutor submitted documents to the court stating that 16 per cent of offenders for this offence — concealing a serious indictable offence — received a full custodial sentence.

And, he submitted documents about facilities that were available to look after people with medical problems who serve a jail term.

'Bewildering' he isn't fit for jail but is fit for church

Wilson's lawyers also put forward a number of glowing character references, with one saying the cleric was a "true leader of the Church".

"We will develop a case that the offender is not just a man who has no prior convictions, but he is in fact a man of prior positive good character with particular reference to the general field of the prevention of child sexual abuse and the protection of children," Mr Temby said.

Survivors of Fletcher's abuse spoke outside court, including Peter Creigh, who told Wilson in 1976 that he had been abused.

Wilson was charged in 2015 with failing to report the matter in 2004 after Fletcher was charged.

Mr Creigh said that he could not believe Wilson's ailments could preclude him from jail but not from being archbishop.

"The description given by his defence team makes you wonder how he's still walking, let alone being in his job. It's quite bewildering really," Mr Creigh said.

"I can't believe that there's not some leadership shown for the bishop to be stood down. He has stood down, but he should resign.

"Nowhere in society would someone be convicted of such a serious crime still stay in his role."

Wilson stepped aside from his position after his conviction. Bishop Greg O'Kelly is acting in the role.

Daniel Feenan, who was also abused by Fletcher, told reporters outside the court that Wilson should be in jail.

"The pastoral care when it comes to looking after everyone else isn't there," he said.

"Regardless of how sick he is ... he's quite capable of getting on a plane in Adelaide, he's quite capable of going to jail."

Judge Stone reserved his decision until July 3.

Wilson's bail has been extended until that time.


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