January 26th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The Natural Family as an integrative social force in American history

EDITORIAL The Remnant, resistant, creative minority

ENERGY POLICY Enough hot air about carbon dioxide; let's talk LPG

CANBERRA OBSERVED Federal election: the media have done our duty at the polls for us

NSW ELECTION NSW is just starting to sizzle

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Archbishop Wilson free, but trial was no witchhunt

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Awaiting Hayne: full report sure to shake finance sector

LIFE ISSUES The unvarnished truth about surrogacy

HIGHER EDUCATION Massification: that's the name of the game

SOCIETY Dover Beach: a mordant post-Christmas reflection

IRELAND TODAY Celtic Tiger changed out of all recognition

MUSIC One note does not a monotone make

CINEMA Aquaman: High fantasy in ocean depths

BOOK REVIEW Uninformed consent

BOOK REVIEW A thoroughly modern movement

BOOK REVEW The foundation of a successful society


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Archbishop Wilson free, but trial was no witchhunt

by Robin Speed

News Weekly, January 26, 2019

Does it follow from the successful appeal by Archbishop Philip Wilson against a conviction for failing to report child sexual abuse that the prosecution was a witchhunt? Certainly not! The prosecution was reasonably based and, although not successful, is a warning to those, no matter how high up, promptly to report information to the police.

It should be made clear that the abuse of children in the Hunter region by Roman Catholic priests was shocking and the pain and suffering brought on those who were meant to be cared for is beyond comprehension. Yet no senior person in the Church or, for that matter, any organisation has been brought to account for covering up these despicable acts. The prosecution of Archbishop Wilson was meant to be the beginning of bringing them to account.

As a young man, the Archbishop was thoroughly familiar with the scene in the Hunter region. He was born there and as a young cleric was posted there. He also knew Fletcher, one of the worst offenders. In the mid 1970s he was personally told by Peter Creagh, a young member of the Church, of the abuse that he had suffered at the hands of Fletcher.

Yet Father Wilson, as he then was, made no inquiries to find out whether the allegations were true, nor did he report the allegations to the police. He rose through the church ranks in the Hunter region over the years and it is hard to believe that, as he did so, he did not receive complaints from time to time of the abuse by Fletcher and other priests.

In 2006 Fletcher was at last arrested for the abuse of children but this did not include Creagh, the man who had complained to Father Wilson of his abuse at the hands of Fletcher. But on learning that Fletcher had been charged, by-then Archbishop Wilson still did not go to the police with the information that Creagh had given him in the 1970s.

In defence of the Archbishop, it needs to be said that he did not witness the alleged offence by Fletcher nor did Fletcher make any admission to him about the matter. His crime, if there was one, was that he in 2006 did not disclose to the police what he had been told in the 1970s.

Justice Monika Schmidt summarised the position as follows: “The prosecution case was that the evidence was capable of giving rise to the necessary inferences, including as it did the receipt of credible complaints about Fletcher in 1976, from two young victims from the Maitland parish, alleging acts which involved sexual intercourse.

“As the result of the further disclosures made to the Archbishop 2004, the evidence relied on, it was argued, was capable of giving rise to the inference that the Archbishop’s mental state then moved from one of suspicion that the 1971 offence had been committed by Fletcher, to a belief.

“In order for it to be open to conclude that the Archbishop in 2004 had a belief that Fletcher had committed the 1971 offence, of necessity the evidence must be capable of: firstly, establishing that Fletcher committed the alleged offence; secondly, giving rise to the inference that in 2004 the Archbishop remembered the allegations made to him in 1976; and thirdly, giving rise to the inference that the other information which the Archbishop later received about Fletcher in 1976 and 2004 was such that it did give rise to a belief that Fletcher had committed the 1971 offence.”

Magistrate Robert Stone dealt with the criminal proceedings against the Archbishop. He had the advantage of hearing from Creagh and the Archbishop. He carefully weighed up all the evidence and considered that the offence was proved beyond reasonable doubt and concluded that the career of the Archbishop and the reputation of the Church had been the primary concerns of the Archbishop.

When the matter came before Judge Roy Ellis on appeal he took a different view and, without seeing Creagh or the Archbishop, decided that the offence was not proved beyond reasonable doubt. In particular, he was not satisfied that the Archbishop had information which he believed was of material assistance to the police in securing a conviction.

To many, the Archbishop represented one of the most senior persons in the Church who had information about Fletcher from the mid-1970s and, at the time Fletcher was arrested for abuse of other boys, he kept silent about the information he had of the abuse of Creagh.

There can be no doubt of the strong community frustration and bitterness towards those in the Church who knew about what was happening but have not been held accountable.

However, under our law, we judge by the words of the offence and not by community or media feelings.

The relevant words are: “If a person has committed a serious indictable offence and another person who knows or believes that the offence has been committed and that he or she has information which might be of material assistance in securing the apprehension of the offender or the prosecution or conviction of the offender for it fails without reasonable excuse to bring the information to the attention of a member of the police force or other appropriate authority, that other person is liable for imprisonment for two years.”

The offence is failing to report relevant information, not concealing the information. Most of us would be surprised that it is a criminal offence not to report information to the police when that information was about an event we did not see but were told about by the alleged victim or someone else.

The task of the prosecutor in prosecuting the Archbishop for a breach of the provision was extremely difficult.

Taking the words of the offence, the prosecutor had to provide beyond reasonable doubt that:

  • The Archbishop knew or believed in 2006 that Fletcher had abused Creagh in the mid-1970s.
  • The Archbishop knew or believed in 2006 that what had been told might be of material assistance in securing the conviction of Fletcher.
  • That the Archbishop failed without reasonable excuse to bring the information to the attention of the police.

An almost impossible task. But it is essential that Australians have the protection of only being prosecuted for actual offences, not for what the media might like them to be.

Robin Speed is president of the Rule of Law Institute of Australia.

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