Survivors of abuse who protested against the church outside the court on Tuesday called on Wilson to resign as archbishop. They carried signs accusing the church of hypocrisy and describing it as a “fraudulent cult.
“One of Fletcher’s victims, Peter Gogarty, an advocate for fellow survivors, said he was disappointed that Wilson had walked free from court, but “there is no doubt the archbishop has received a significant sentence.”
Survivors remained pleased by the landmark conviction, he said.
“We have made history here in Australia: The highest-ranked church official to ever be brought to account for what we know was a worldwide systematic abuse of children and the concealment of that abuse,” Gogarty told reporters. “So I’m content that we’ve done something in Australia that nobody else has been able to manage.”
Another victim, Daniel Feenan, said he would not have been abused by Fletcher as a 12-year-old in 1988 if Wilson had spoken out about the allegations he heard in 1976.
“I do feel I’ve got justice,” Feenan said after the sentencing. “It’s an absolutely strong message today.”
Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright said Wilson as a bishop had taken vigorous action against child abusers.
As bishop of Wollongong, Wilson had rejected a Vatican ruling that a suspected pedophile priest should return to duty. As Adelaide archbishop, he helped police extradite a lay church employee from the United States.
“It is a deep shock and disappointment that this man has been found guilty of covering up abuse,” Wright said in a statement.
“Archbishop Wilson is a longtime friend and colleague of mine, and almost like a member of my family. But in these matters, all of us must rigorously set aside such considerations in the interests of justice and the protection of children,” Wright added.
Prosecutors last month told the magistrate Wilson must be jailed to send a message that such institutional cover-ups will no longer be tolerated. Defense lawyers argued that Wilson had several chronic illnesses and might not survive a prison sentence.