Former Archbishop Philip Wilson, the most senior Catholic official in the world to be convicted of concealing child sexual abuse, avoided jail after a judge on Tuesday allowed him to serve his 12-month custodial sentence in home detention.
Newcastle Local Court magistrate Robert Stone ordered Wilson to be detained at his sister’s home near Newcastle in New South Wales for at least six months, after which he will be eligible for parole, local media reported.
Wilson showed no emotion when the decision was handed down, according to the news agency Australian Associated Press.
The 67-year-old Catholic cleric was forced to step down as the archbishop of Adelaide last month after growing calls for his resignation, including from Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
He was convicted in May and last month sentenced to 12 months in custody for failing to report to police the repeated sexual abuse of two altar boys by a paedophile priest in the 1970s.
Wilson, who has been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s, has launched an appeal against his conviction.
The magistrate said Tuesday given the fact he had previously been of good character and taking account of his age, mental and physical conditions, a home detention order was punishment enough.
Stone accepted Wilson was unlikely to re-offend but had to serve a period of detention to act as a deterrence to others.
Wilson was an assistant parish priest in East Maitland in regional New South Wales when the alleged abuse took place.
Wilson knew that priest James Fletcher was sexually abusing altar boys but dismissed their “credible allegations” because of his desire to protect the Church and its reputation, the magistrate-only trial found in May.
Fletcher was found guilty in December 2004 on nine counts of child sexual abuse and died two years later in jail.
During Wilson’s sentencing in July, Stone found the former archbishop had shown no remorse or contrition for the cover-up.
He also said Wilson’s primary motive had been to protect the Catholic Church.
Wilson’s case highlights Australia’s struggle to confront the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the nation’s Catholic and other institutions.
In December, a five-year-long Royal Commission inquiry into child sexual abuse found in 2017 that tens of thousands of children had been sexually abused between 1960 and 2015 in various Australian institutions, including schools, churches, and other organisations.
It found that seven per cent of all priests had allegedly abused children and that 62 per cent of victims who reported abuse in a religious institution was from Catholic-managed institutions.
Last month, the government rolled out a 10-year national redress scheme costing three billion dollars, one of the inquiry’s recommendations – for survivors, who will be able to seek compensation from the institutions where the offences took place.
According to rough estimates, some 60,000 survivors of abuse are eligible for the compensation nationally.