22 May 2018

Adelaide's Archbishop found guilty of concealing sexual abuse

5:46 pm on 22 May 2018

The most senior Catholic to be charged with concealing child sexual abuse, Adelaide's Archbishop Philip Wilson, has been found guilty by a New South Wales court.

Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson.

Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson. Photo: Supplied.

The 67-year-old was accused of covering up abuse by priest Jim Fletcher in the NSW Hunter region in the 1970s.

As part of his defence, Wilson's legal team tried to argue that as child sexual abuse was not considered a serious crime in the 1970s, it was not worthy of being reported to authorities.

However, Magistrate Robert Stone cast that claim aside in a ruling that could have ramifications in courts around the country.

Speaking outside court, abuse survivor Peter Gogarty said the verdict was "one of the most significant days in criminal law in Australian history".

"I think this will now open the doors for other jurisdictions to start looking at trying to prosecute people who deliberately looked after their institution and, literally, threw children to the wolves," Mr Gogarty said.

"On behalf of all of the victims who have been abused in this country and elsewhere, I just want to say what an enormous relief it is that the people who let this happen are finally being brought to account."

There were gasps from those in the packed courtroom when Magistrate Stone handed down the verdict.

People were crying and shaking hands after the hearing.

Victims want jail sentence

The prosecution has requested a custodial sentence for Wilson, for reasons of "deterrence" and "denunciation".

Wilson remains on bail on the condition that he attends his sentencing hearing, which will be held on June 19.

The harshest sentence Magistrate Stone is able to give is two years in prison, and he has the option of suspending the sentence.

"Archbishop Wilson knew what James Patrick Fletcher was up to in 1976," Mr Gogarty said.

"Fletcher was already abusing me by then, but Wilson could've stopped it, he could've got me help.

"I am very pleased that the prosecution is going to push for a custodial sentence."

Magistrate finds witness was truthful and reliable

In a statement, Archbishop Wilson said he was "obviously disappointed at the decision published today".

"I will now have to consider the reasons and consult closely with my lawyers to determine the next steps," Wilson said.

Wilson's legal team made four attempts to have the case thrown out, arguing it was not in the public interest and that his diagnosis of Alzheimer's should preclude him from trial - although it did not preclude him from retaining his position in the church.

His lawyers maintained throughout the trial in Newcastle Local Court that while one victim, Peter Creigh, was abused by Fletcher as a child, Wilson, who was an assistant parish priest in East Maitland at the time, did not know about it.

Mr Creigh previously asked for a non-publication order on his name to be lifted.

He clutched his partner's hand as Magistrate Stone read out the verdict.

The magistrate said he found Mr Creigh to be a truthful and reliable witness.

"I am satisfied and find that Mr Creigh described to the accused he performed fellatio of Fletcher and masturbated Mr Fletcher," Magistrate Stone said.