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Australia's most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Philip Wilson, has been sentenced to a year's detention for covering up child sex abuse by a priest. It is a landmark case and has been hailed by survivors of abuse.
Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson was sentenced to 12 months of detention by an Australian court on Tuesday for covering up child sex abuse. He will serve at least six months before he is eligible for parole.
Wilson is the most senior Roman Catholic cleric to be sentenced in connection with child abuse. It is a landmark case which has been welcomed by some abuse survivors as a strong warning to institutions that fail to protect children.
Newcastle Magistrate Robert Stone will consider on August 14 whether Wilson is suitable for home detention.
Stone found the 67-year-old cleric guilty in May in the Newcastle Local Court of failing to report to police the repeated abuse of two altar boys by a pedophile priest named James Fletcher in the Hunter Valley region north of Sydney during the 1970s.
Wilson could have been sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison. Stone said Wilson failed to act against Fletcher because he "wanted to protect the church and its image."
"The whole of the community is devastated in so many ways by the decades of abuse and its concealment," the magistrate said. "We are all the poorer for what has occurred."
Outside the court on Tuesday survivors of abuse protested against the Church and called on Wilson to resign as archbishop. They carried signs accusing the Church of hypocrisy and describing it as a "fraudulent cult."
Peter Gogarty, a child abuse victim and advocate for fellow survivors, said he was disappointed that Wilson had walked free from court, but said "there is no doubt the archbishop has received a significant sentence." Survivors remained pleased by the landmark conviction, he said.
Holding the church accountable
Wilson's sentencing was another step toward holding the church to account for a global abuse crisis that has also engulfed Pope Francis' financial minister, Australian Cardinal George Pell. A few lawyers said that they expect many more clerics to be charged in Australia as a result of Wilson's test case.
Last month, prosecutor Gareth Harrison told the magistrate that Wilson must be jailed to send a message that such institutional cover-ups will no longer be tolerated.
But defense lawyer Ian Temby told the court that Wilson had several chronic illnesses and might not survive a prison sentence.
State governments in Australia are ramping up pressure on the Church to report child abuse, and are legislating to prosecute priests who maintain that revelations of pedophilia made in the confessional cannot be disclosed.
Wilson testified that he did not recall ever hearing allegations against his fellow priest.
Fletcher was arrested on unrelated child abuse charges in 2004 and died in prison of a stroke in 2006 while serving an almost eight-year sentence.
av/msh (AFP, AP, dpa)