ADELAIDE Archbishop Philip Edward Wilson has been found guilty of concealing child sexual abuse allegations against another priest after a landmark hearing in Newcastle Local Court.
Archbishop Wilson – who was the most senior Catholic cleric to be charged with failing to report child sexual abuse to police – showed no emotion as Magistrate Robert Stone delivered his lengthy judgement on Tuesday in front of a packed courtroom.
Meanwhile, a number of people in the courtroom, including Peter Creigh, broke down in tears.
It is a decision that could have wide-reaching implications for other high-ranking clergy members.
The 67-year-old Archbishop was accused of failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse against paedophile priest Father Jim Fletcher, who died in jail in 2006.
Mr Creigh, a former altar boy, who bravely waived his right to a non-publication order on his name, had told the eight-day hearing that in 1976 he told Archbishop Wilson, then a junior priest at St Joseph’s Church, East Maitland, that Father Fletcher had subjected him to acts of punishment and sexual abuse about five years earlier.
There was no dispute during the hearing that Fletcher, a notorious paedophile, had sexually abused the then 10-year-old Mr Creigh.
Instead, the hearing focused on whether the conversation between Mr Creigh and Archbishop Wilson took place and whether the Archbishop remembered the allegation and believed it was true between 2004 and 2006.
The Archbishop’s legal team had tried four times to have the case against him thrown out before he took the stand in April.
Under questioning from his barrister, Stephen Odgers, SC, Archbishop Wilson had unequivocally denied having any memory of a conversation in 1976 with Mr Creigh about Father James Fletcher subjecting him to sexual abuse.
When asked if he was able to say whether such a conversation took place, Archbishop Wilson said he thought it was doubtful.
“I think it is unlikely because the nature of the evidence was so graphic,” he told Magistrate Robert Stone.
“I don’t think I would have forgotten that.”
The prosecution had to overcome a number of significant hurdles in their bid to convict Archbishop Wilson.
Not only did Crown prosecutor Gareth Harrison have to prove that Mr Creigh told Archbishop Wilson about the sexual abuse in 1976, but that Archbishop Wilson remembered it and had a belief that the allegations were true between 2004 and 2006, after Fletcher had been charged with child sex offences and before his death in jail.
But ultimately, Mr Stone found the prosecution were able to clear those hurdles.
During his lengthy judgement, Mr Stone said Mr Creigh was “truthful and reliable” when giving evidence on the important issues in the hearing.
More to come.
Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson found guilty of covering up child sexual abuse
ABC News Australia
22 May 2018
Photo: Archbishop Philip Wilson’s legal team tried four times to have the case thrown out of court. (AAP: Dan Himbrecht)
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, in a landmark ruling.
- Wilson concealed child sexual abuse by a fellow priest in the 1970s
- He was assistant parish priest in East Maitland, NSW, at the time
- He could face up to two years in jail
The 67-year-old was accused of covering up abuse by priest Jim Fletcher in the NSW Hunter region in the 1970s.
During his trial, the archbishop said no one had ever come forward to tell him of allegations of child sex abuse during his 40 years as a clergyman.
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.
“We’re talking about children being sexually abused and the Archbishop knew — that to me demands 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.
Wilson ‘wanted to protect church’s reputation’
Magistrate Stone said he did not accept Wilson could not remember a 1976 conversation, in which Mr Creigh, who would have been aged 15 at that time, described his abuse at the hands of Fletcher.
The magistrate said Mr Creigh “had no motive or interest to deceive or make up the conversation”.
Magistrate Stone said Wilson knew “what he was hearing was a credible allegation and the accused wanted to protect the church and its reputation”.
The magistrate said if Wilson had reported what he knew to police, it would have helped in prosecuting Fletcher.
He said Wilson knew the Creigh family.
“He knew what the young man was telling him was believable,” Magistrate Stone said.
Magistrate Stone said he accepted Wilson had no role in the assaults and that Fletcher had never made admissions to him.
Catholic parishioners attending mass at the St Francis Xavier Cathedral in the Archbishop’s Adelaide diocese were divided over the court’s decision.
“I think it’s a very sad state of affairs for everybody because I think people are forgetting that in the ’70s we were not looking for this type of situation, we didn’t know about paedophiles,” one person said.
“I don’t think he was actually covering up, I think he was just naive to the situation and the whole thing is unfortunate circumstances.”
“If he has committed crimes against society, people, kids, he needs to pay for it,” said another.
“If he’s guilty, then he’s not representing the faith of the church… that is not what we really want to promote.”
Adelaide Archbishop guilty found of sex abuse cover-up
SOUTH Australia’s highest ranking Catholic Church official, Philip Wilson, has been convicted of covering up the sexual abuse of altar boys.
May 22, 201811:29am
THE highest ranking official in South Australia’s Catholic Church has been found guilty of landmark charges that he covered up a priest’s sexual abuse of altar boys.
The Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Edward Wilson, 67, was convicted this morning in a Newcastle Local Court for the cover up of child sex abuse during the 1970s in NSW Hunter region.
Magistrate Robert Stone handed down the verdict following a magistrate-only trial, finding him guilty of concealing a serious indictable offence of another person.
He now faces a maximum two years in jail with sentencing to occur on June 19.
The clergyman is the most senior Catholic official in the world to be charged and convicted of the offence, with the decision possibly having implications for other high-ranking church officials.
Wilson has previously denied claims that he was involved in the cover up of abuse by priest Jim Fletcher, who died in jail in 2006.
The Archbishop has been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and his lawyers tried to argue that this should preclude him from trial, but the bid was rejected.
In April the Archbishop declared under oath that two former alter boys never told him that they had been sexually abused by Fletcher.
He told the court he had known one of the former altar boys Peter Creigh and his family when he was an assistant priest in the NSW Hunter Region in the mid-1970s.
But Wilson said he had no memory of Mr Creigh telling him in 1976 how he had been sexually abused by priest James Fletcher five years earlier, when he was 10.
The defence have tried to have the case thrown out four times, arguing Wilson was not guilty because there’s no evidence to prove he was told about the abuse, believed it was true or remembered being told about it.
Along with proving that Mr Creigh had told Wilson about the abuse, Crown prosecutor Gareth Harrison also had to prove that Wilson believed these allegations were true between 2004 and 2006, after Fletcher had been charged with child sex offences.
In court today Magistrate Stone described Mr Creigh as a “trustworthy” witness, before he handed down the guilty sentence.
It is likely that Wilson will appeal the verdict and it remains unclear if he will stand down from his church duties.