National

Survivors say Wilson case still a landmark

By AAP Newswire

Survivors say Australia has made history with a landmark conviction even if Adelaide's Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson does not end up in jail for concealing child sexual abuse.

The most senior Catholic official in the world to be convicted of concealing child sex abuse is likely to serve half of his 12-month sentence in home detention and the remainder on parole.

Peter Gogarty, a victim of the pedophile priest at the centre of the concealment case, said Wilson had probably been let off "a little bit too lightly" but took comfort in his conviction.

"We have made history here in Australia," Mr Gogarty told reporters outside the Newcastle court on Tuesday.

"The highest ranked Catholic official to ever be brought to account for what we know was a worldwide systematic abuse of children and the concealment of that abuse.

"So I am content that we've done something in Australia that nobody else has been able to manage."

Wilson was convicted of failing to report to police the abuse of Peter Creigh and another altar boy by pedophile priest James Fletcher in the 1970s.

Another of Fletcher's victims Daniel Feenan would have preferred to see Wilson leave the court in handcuffs but hailed the magistrate's decision to impose a 12-month sentence.

"He is the most senior Catholic to ever be charged and he is actually giving him 50 per cent of the maximum term. That is groundbreaking in itself."

The Catholic Church said it hoped the sentence brought some peace for the victims of Fletcher, who died in jail in 2006.

"The Catholic bishops of Australia acknowledge that the effects of sexual abuse can last a lifetime, but we hope that today's custodial sentence brings some sense of peace and healing to those abused by deceased priest James Fletcher."

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference statement acknowledged the courage of survivors in coming forward, saying they had been vital in helping the church learn the lesson of its shameful history of abuse and concealment.

Mr Gogarty and Mr Feenan called for Wilson, who has stood down as Adelaide archbishop, to resign or be removed by the Pope.

"If the archbishop does not resign, then the Catholic Church becomes a bigger laughing stock than it already is," Mr Gogarty said.

Bishop Greg O'Kelly, who has administrative and executive authority in the Adelaide archdiocese, did not comment on the sentence but said the church must continue to support survivors.

"We should be very aware of the impact on survivors, their families and all those who love them," the archdiocese's apostolic administrator said.

"I have witnessed the anguish and grief of victims. The church must continue all efforts to listen and support them."

The ACBC said the church had made substantial changes to ensure abuse and cover-up are not part of Catholic life and children are safe.