A 12 months home detention sentence on the Archbishop of Adelaide for concealing child sex abuse in the 1970s should rightly scare anyone thinking of such concealments today.
Brisbane injury compensation law specialist Mark O’Connor says the sentence for Archbishop Philip Wilson following charges laid in 2015 should send a cold chill through the spine of those who in the future may wish to cover up cases of sexual abuse.
But the sentence has highlighted an anomaly in Queensland’s laws where church officials are not on the official list of those with a mandatory requirement to report any child abuse they are aware of.
Mark O’Connor, a Director of Bennett & Philp Lawyers who has run abuse compensation cases against institutions, says given his age and health conditions, a jail term would not be just.
When Philip Wilson committed the offence he was a relatively young man trying to protect the interests of the church. The offences were committed at a time when there was a very different culture to that which exists now. There is no suggestion of any other criminality on his behalf.”
“He is a man of 67 years with serious health issues with, one would think, no risk of reoffending. I think him being sentenced to home detention probably is not unfair in the circumstances even though one can understand that victims of abuse would want to see him or others go to jail,” he says.
Mark adds that in this modern climate if a person was to cover up the acts of an abuser then it could be likely that they would be incarcerated in a prison rather than at home.
“It’s clear from the trial judge’s remarks that a prison term would be a very likely option for such an offence. The charge has a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment,”
Mark says although Archbishop Wilson’s “primary motive” was to protect the Catholic Church, he did not think the sentence would have any flow-on effect on church abuse compensation cases in Queensland.
This is because in what may be a historical anomaly, it seems that in Queensland church officials are not legally required to report abuse.
The Child Protection Act of 1999 lists the “mandatory reporters” as teachers; doctors; registered nurses; police officers with child protection responsibilities, people performing a child advocate function under the Public Guardian Act and early childhood education and care professionals.
Church officials are not on that list in Queensland though there are calls that they should be included. It appears the legislation governing the particular occupations that are mandated to report abuse varies across the states.”
“The groups of people mandated to notify cases of suspected child abuse and neglect range from persons in a limited number of occupations (such as Qld), to a more extensive list (Vic., WA), to a very extensive list (ACT, NSW, SA, Tas.), through to every adult (NT; and Vic. for sexual offences). The occupations most commonly named as mandatory reporters are those who deal frequently with children in the course of their work: teachers, doctors, nurses and police,” he adds.
“This sentence has rightly focussed attention on the fact that people like the archbishop would not be required to report abuse cases they became aware of. You can expect a renewed push to include them in the list of mandatory abuse reporters now,” Mark says.
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