Philip Wilson spared jail over child sex abuse cover-up

THE disgraced former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Edward Wilson will serve his prison term for covering up Catholic Church child sex abuse on home detention, and not behind bars.

However, he will launch an appeal against his conviction on Tuesday.

Wilson, 67, was sentenced to 12 months on home detention with a six-month non-parole period. He will stay at his sister's home on the Central Coast in New South Wales.

It follows his world-first conviction in May.

In a landmark hearing that took less than five minutes, Magistrate Robert Stone sentenced Wilson to "strict" supervision and as required, he will wear a home tracking device.

There are no other special conditions.

Former Archbishop Philip Wilson leaves Newcastle Local Court on July 3. Picture: Darren Pateman/AAP
Former Archbishop Philip Wilson leaves Newcastle Local Court on July 3. Picture: Darren Pateman/AAP

In a sad twist, the case's main victim, Peter Aidan Creigh, was unable to attend the sentencing after being hospitalised again.

He missed the previous hearing after undergoing a quadruple heart bypass.

The Newcastle Local Court heard Wilson was a suitable candidate for home detention after NSW Corrections assessed the case, and his sister's house, over the past month.

The ruling came a fortnight after the state's most senior Catholic Church leader quit his post in the wake of intense public pressure to resign his post including from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

In May, Magistrate Stone found that between 2004 and 2006, Wilson did not tell NSW police what he knew about the sexual abuse of children by his former flatmate, the now dead paedophile priest Fletcher, in the 1970s.

Fletcher, 64, died in prison in 2006 after being convicted of abusing an underage altar boy Daniel Feenan, now 41.

Fletcher also abused Peter Aidan Creigh, 61, and Peter Gogarty, 57 as well as at least one other former altar boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

Police fear he attacked numerous others.

Mr Stone sentenced Wilson to 12 months' jail with a six-month non-parole term for failing to report Fletcher's crimes, which he was first told about by Mr Creigh in 1976.

Abuse victim Peter Gogarty fronts media outside Newcastle Court on June 19. Picture: Darren Pateman/AAP
Abuse victim Peter Gogarty fronts media outside Newcastle Court on June 19. Picture: Darren Pateman/AAP

Wilson, who suffers from a range of health problems including the early onset of Alzheimer's, will remain a church bishop after returning to the "ranks" but will have no authority.

What role, if any, he has in the future is yet to be determined as the church seeks his replacement to head the South Australian Catholic community.

Despite Pope Francis accepting his resignation letter, sent on July 20, Wilson, who has been on bail since May, is "convinced of his own innocence", according to the SA church's acting boss.

Wilson had resisted widespread calls to step down, pending the result of the appeals process remains live, but last month conceded this was causing "just too much pain and distress" so "I must end this" and resign.

Despite the widespread community outrage and internal church concerns about the damage his defiance was causing, he kept his resignation secret from his senior colleagues for 10 days.

The Vatican communicated his resignation almost two months after Wilson was found guilty covering up Fletcher's "acts of punishment".

"Though my resignation was not requested, I made this decision because I have become increasingly worried at the growing level of hurt that my recent conviction has caused within the community," he said in a statement.

Mr Turnbull, a Catholic who The Advertiser revealed last week had embarked on a one man crusade to have Wilson sacked, welcomed the decision "which belatedly recognises the many calls, including my own, for him to resign".

Australia's ambassador to the Holy See, Melissa Hitchman, had lobbied the Pope on behalf of Mr Turnbull and the Federal Government, for Wilson to be sacked.

The National Council of Priests of Australia and Premier Steven Marshall had also demanded Wilson be dismissed.

Speaking a day after Wilson's resignation was announced, Archdiocese of Adelaide Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Greg O'Kelly, defended his friend.

Bishop O'Kelly said an angry public were "hurting" but insisted Wilson was "concerned for healing" and urged the public to "remember he is a man who has done so much in child protection areas".

"It is clear from his (resignation) statement … that his focus has been on the pain of others," he said.

"We must not forget the great good he has done in those areas.

"We have to … listen and try to rebuild and restore trust, restore confidence.

"He has made his decision out of concern for the wider issues in the church … the hurt to victims and the divisions that has occurred and he wants to do what he can to remedy it."