The most senior Roman Catholic cleric to be convicted of covering up child sex abuse was sentenced to 12 months in detention by an Australian court Tuesday in a landmark case welcomed by some abuse survivors as a strong warning to institutions that fail to protect children. Newcastle Magistrate Robert Stone ordered Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson to serve at least six months before he is eligible for parole, the AP reports. But Wilson will not immediately go into custody. Stone will consider on Aug. 14 whether Wilson is suitable for home detention. Stone in May found the 67-year-old cleric guilty in the Newcastle Local Court of failing to report to police the repeated abuse of two altar boys by pedophile priest James Fletcher in the Hunter Valley region north of Sydney during the 1970s.
Wilson faced a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison. Stone said Wilson failed to act against Fletcher because he "wanted to protect the church and its image." "The whole of the community is devastated in so many ways by the decades of abuse and its concealment," the magistrate said. "We are all the poorer for what has occurred." The sentencing was another step toward holding the church to account for a global abuse crisis that has also engulfed Pope Francis' financial minister, Australian Cardinal George Pell. Some lawyers say they expect many more clerics to be charged in Australia as a result of Wilson's test case.
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