THE only way to send a clear message to powerful religious organisations about institutional concealment of child sexual abuse is to send Adelaide Archbishop Philip Edward Wilson to jail.
That was the powerful parting message that Crown prosecutor Gareth Harrison had for Magistrate Robert Stone on Tuesday as Archbishop Wilson, the most senior Catholic cleric in the world to be found guilty of failing to report child sexual abuse to police, faced a sentence hearing in Newcastle Local Court.
“We’ve gotten to a stage where the courts and the community will no longer accept or tolerate the endemic cover-up of sexual abuse by adults on the most vulnerable members of the community,” Mr Harrison said.
Mr Harrison said the need to punish Archbishop Wilson, denounce his conduct, deter others from similar offending and recognise the harm done to the victims loomed large in what was a case so high profile last month’s landmark verdict was heard around the world.
But Mr Stone is being asked to weigh the prosecution’s submissions against the subjective material provided by defence barrister, Ian Temby, QC, who said Archbishop Wilson’s medical and mental health conditions and the likelihood of him being, incorrectly, viewed as a sex offender in custody and assaulted would make his time in jail more onerous.
He referred to a number of medical expert reports, which opined that his mental health would deteriorate and he could be targeted.
“These considerations would impact substantially on the Archbishop's health and well-being and may even threaten his survival,” Mr Temby said when referring to one expert’s report.
Mr Temby also produced a raft of character references, which he said showed Archbishop Wilson was a “true leader of the church” and a trailblazer in terms of introducing police checks and compliance systems.
“We'll be developing a case that he is not just a man who has no prior convictions,” Mr Temby said.
“But he is in fact a man of prior positive good character, with particular reference to the general field of prevention of child sexual abuse and the protection of children.”
Mr Temby’s ultimate submission was that Archbishop Wilson should be convicted of the offence, but given a good behaviour bond and spared a jail term.
After hearing from both sides, Mr Stone said he was unable to come to a decision on Tuesday and adjourned the matter until July 3 for sentence.
Archbishop Wilson faces the maximum of two years in jail for the charge of concealing a serious indictable offence of another person.