FORMER Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson still intends to appeal his conviction for failing to report his knowledge of paedophile priest Jim Fletcher to police, but in opting to start his sentence immediately after leaving court on Tuesday, it could be felt that the high-ranking Catholic cleric has begun to accept the verdict of the court.
Unfortunately for those who wished to hear something of that nature from Wilson first-hand, he was silent outside the court, protected by a group of supporters who ensured that those who had come to confront him – including Fletcher victim and survivors’ advocate Peter Gogarty – were kept at a distance.
For the time being at least, the public furore around Wilson – the highest-ranking Catholic to be convicted, anywhere in the world, for concealment crimes – should die down, as he serves his home detention, presumably at the Central Coast house of his sister. As shocking a fall as it is, it is worth remembering that the prosecution had called for a full-time custodial sentence.
What Wilson’s conviction does show, however, is that Section 316 of the Crimes Act – concealing a serious indictable offence – is sufficiently strong to mount further prosecutions, should the authorities be of a mind to do so. Unfortunately, however, NSW is the only state or territory in Australia where such a statute exists, a situation noted by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, when it recommended that NSW-style legislation be enacted across the nation.
Wilson might have been the most senior Catholic convicted of concealment, but the royal commission uncovered numerous examples of senior church figures doing less than the law demanded of them when it came to assisting the police.
Indeed, this behaviour was not restricted to the Catholic Church, nor to churches alone. In many respects, this repeated failure to turn perpetrators over to the authorities, this wilful blindness to the needs of child abuse victims, is in some ways as shocking as the abuse itself.
Thankfully, large numbers of paedophile priests have been put before the courts for their sexual crimes.
A full accounting of the systems that protected them demands that others, who knew of their crimes but failed to report them, are similarly brought to book.