THE charging of Archbishop Philip Wilson for allegedly concealing a child sex allegation against Hunter priest Jim Fletcher is significant for anyone who has been sexually abused as a child, whether in an institution or by a family member.
It says that no one is above the law. It says that child sexual abuse is a crime and is ultimately about the abuse of power.
And what we have seen so distressingly since the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is that many, many children over many decades have reported that they were sexually abused, and many adults in many institutions beyond the Catholic Church have failed them.
It is fitting, if immensely saddening, that the most senior Catholic clergyman in the world to be charged with concealing the child sex crimes of another priest should be from the Hunter region.
Since 1995 with the charging of paedophile priest Vince Ryan this region has struggled to come to terms with the extent of sexual abuse against children in the Hunter over many years. Back then the church expressed shock that one of its own should have committed such crimes.
But what the Hunter later learnt, through articles in the Newcastle Herald in 2007, is the Catholic Church not only knew about its child sex offenders, but took steps to stop them being held to account by secular law.
Since that time the Herald has continued to report on the issue, despite strong criticism from many quarters including the Church, that continues to this day.
What the royal commission has shown is that child sex abuse flourishes when silence reigns. It flourishes because too many individuals have put other interests – their own job prospects or ambitions, the status of their institutions – ahead of what should have been the only interest – responding to children and protecting them from harm.
Too many people have found excuses not to act or, in more distressing cases, have caused further harm to children by blaming them.
There are children in the Hunter today who are being sexually abused in their homes, where they should be safe. There are people who know this but find it easier not to act.
That kind of thinking must end.
Archbishop Philip Wilson is one clergyman, albeit a senior one, who is alleged to have failed to act. He has been charged, but strongly denies the allegation and is entitled to be presumed innocent. He has stepped aside until the matter is dealt with in court and deserves credit for that.
There were many tears on Tuesday with news a senior Catholic clergyman had been charged, but immediate calls for others, in other institutions, to be held to account.
I applaud all victims and survivors of child sexual abuse who have had the courage to speak on their own behalf, and on behalf of those who no longer can. I applaud their families and supporters who stood by them.
This is a day that says no institution is ‘‘all-powerful’’. That kind of thinking also must end.
Finally, the McCarthy in me appreciates the date, St Patrick’s Day.