COMMENT

Joanne McCarthy reflects on the landmark sentencing of Archbishop Philip Wilson

ARCHBISHOP Philip Wilson is not the only Catholic clergyman to have failed to report child sex allegations to police, and the Catholic Church is not the only institution to have protected criminals who sexually abused children.

That’s worth keeping in mind after Wilson’s sentencing on Tuesday, when media reports around the globe meant you could be forgiven for thinking he is the only person to have failed children over decades.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse left us in no doubt that is not the case. For five years of often gruelling testimony we heard how people prioritised their institutions’ reputation, or their own personal status, above children’s welfare.

As Hunter abuse survivor Peter Gogarty has said, we heard how children were thrown to the wolves, and then how institutions coldly and clinically rejected many of them when they turned to those institutions for help as adults.

Wilson is just the most senior Catholic clergyman in the world to be convicted of concealing the child sex crimes of a priest, in part because the offence occurred in a state of Australia where such a charge exists.

Criminal justice reforms flowing from the royal commission include recommended changes to state law to include consistent conceal offences across the country.

Wilson isn’t even the most senior Catholic clergyman in the world to be charged with concealing child sex allegations anymore.

He lost that title a couple of months ago when French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin was charged with concealing the child sex crimes of priest Bernard Preynat.

Six other French Catholic Church officials, including Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, have also been charged with covering-up Preynat’s crimes.

Eight years ago, when Wilson’s formal role in the attempting secret defrocking of another Catholic child sex offender priest, Denis McAlinden, was made public, the Catholic Church batted away suggestions that it was proof of anything more than a “bad apple” priest.

McAlinden was a serial child sex offender, the church said. It apologised, but in 2010 the time wasn’t right for the Australian community to believe that a church would actually protect paedophiles as a matter of course in a system embedded in church law.

The community certainly didn’t regard other institutions like the Salvation Army, Scouts, the Anglican Church, Uniting Church, sporting groups, pentecostal churches, yoga ashrams, Jewish groups, private schools, Jehovahs Witnesses and the Australian Defence Force as organisations that would fail when it came to responding to child sexual abuse. But fail they all did.

It took a royal commission to expose how easily children can be exposed to risk when adults prioritise issues other than their care.

Newcastle Local Court magistrate Robert Stone did not spare Wilson from the brutal truth on Tuesday – his “primary motive” for failing to report child sex allegations about priest Jim Fletcher between 2004 and 2006 was protecting the Catholic church.

“There are no other rational explanations for the offender’s conduct,” Mr Stone said.

Wilson was sentenced to 12 months’ jail, with an assessment to determine if it can be served as home detention, after Mr Stone found no other sentence but imprisonment was appropriate for someone who concealed child sex crimes.

That is a message for all Australians to consider, in a society where the majority of children are sexually abused within families.