Philip Wilson Catholic Church

Philip Wilson

Newsrooms across the world are again reporting on Australia. Just months after Barnaby’s sex scandal and the Canberra bonk ban made news in more than 50 countries, a different kind of sexual impropriety is generating global headlines.

China’s Huanqui,  Sina, LTN and UDN news outlets all ran stories this week about Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson’s conviction on charges of concealing child sexual abuse in the 1970s. A conviction that Wilson now intends to appeal, it should be noted.

These outlets reported that Wilson was sentenced to 12 months’ detention – likely to be served at home – with a minimum of six to be completed. They noted Wilson was the most senior Catholic cleric in the world jailed for this offence, and that some victims were concerned at the leniency.

Similar reports ran in CNN Chile, Japan’s Nichigo Press, Venezuela’s Telesur TV, Slovakia’s Spràvy, Austria’s Die Presse, India’s Free Press, Norway’s NRK, and Croatia’s 24 Sata and Dnevnic.
Reports in the USA appeared in Time Magazine, CBS News, Huffington Post, NBC, the National Catholic Reporter, CNN, The Wall Street Journal and many others. In Britain, stories ran in The Times, The Guardian, The Tablet, The Telegraph, The Independent, on the BBC and elsewhere.

In France, both Paris Match and Europe 1 added to the basic facts that Wilson had denied the charges and was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. They reported the judge’s observation that “the convict [le condamné] had shown no remorse or contrition.”

Italy’s TPI News stressed that while Wilson was indeed convicted, he had denied the accusations and his defence team had repeatedly tried to block the process on the basis of ill health.

It also noted that some survivors of child sexual abuse praised the verdict – elogiato il verdetto – against Wilson.

In contrast, Spain’s RTVE highlighted abuse victim Peter Gogarty’s relief – “We have made history here in Australia” – and also his regret that the sentence was “somewhat mild”.

It also discussed in some detail Australia’s royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse:

The investigation into the Catholic Church, deeply entrenched in the country, received complaints from 4,500 people for alleged abuses by about 1,880 brothers and priests …

It concluded that “The Australian government plans to apologise on behalf of the country in October to paedophilia victims in the custody of institutions.”

Veja in Brazil, a 65% Catholic country, also highlighted the context of the recent royal commission:

The sentence was announced against the backdrop of efforts by Australian states to pass laws requiring priests to alert authorities when they hear about child abuse in the confessional.

Most mainstream news outlets  in Germany covered the story, including Berliner-Zeitung, Der Spiegel, Zeit Online and RTL.

The analysis in Germany’s Die Welt dragged in both Pope Francis and Australia’s Cardinal Pell:

The ruling can be seen as a further step in the worldwide effort to bring the Catholic Church to account for crimes against children. Pope Francis is involved in the crisis as allegations have been made against his chief financial adviser, Cardinal George Pell, also from Australia. Lawyers in Australia now await more court cases against clerics following this verdict.

Italy’s Avvenire – almost alone in the world – highlighted the positive official response of the church to the sentencing.

The Australian Catholic bishops … recognize that the effects of sexual abuse can last for a lifetime, but hope that today’s prison sentence brings a sense of peace and healing to those who were abused …

In-depth analysis appeared in The New York Times which covered all facts of the matter and then explored the global ramifications. It concluded:

The absolute confidentiality of Catholic confessions has long conflicted with secular law. They have been challenged, but rebuffed, in American courtrooms, where all states and the District of Columbia protect most communications between a clergyman and a churchgoer. After revelations of child sexual abuse in Ireland, the government in 2015 passed the Children First Act, which requires the reporting of child abuse heard in confessionals.

Other reports appeared in Albania, Nicaragua, Egypt, Canada, Portugal, Indonesia, Paraguay, Russia, New Zealand, Qatar, Bangladesh, Nigeria, the UAE, Singapore, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Mexico, Ireland, Peru and the Vatican State.