Roman Catholic bishop in Australia sentenced to 12 months detention for child abuse cover-up

Archbishop Philip Wilson arrives for sentencing at Newcastle Local Court in Newcastle, Australia, on Tuesday. (REUTERS)
Updated 03 July 2018
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Roman Catholic bishop in Australia sentenced to 12 months detention for child abuse cover-up

  • Stone in May found the 67-year-old cleric guilty in the Newcastle Local Court of failing to report to police
  • Australian state governments are ramping up pressure on the church to report child abuse and are legislating to prosecute priests

CANBERRA, Australia: The most senior Roman Catholic cleric in the world to be convicted of covering up child sex abuse was sentenced in an Australian court on Tuesday to 12 months in detention.
Newcastle Magistrate Robert Stone ordered Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson to serve at least 6 months before he is eligible for parole.
But Wilson will not immediately go into custody. Stone will consider on Aug. 14 whether Wilson is suitable for home detention. He could live with his sister near Newcastle.
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.
Survivors of abuse who protested against the church outside the court on Tuesday called on Wilson to resign as archbishop.
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 said they expect many more clerics to be charged in Australia as a result of Wilson’s test case.
Prosecutor Gareth Harrison last month told the magistrate Wilson must be jailed to send a message that such institutional cover-ups will no longer be tolerated.
Defense lawyer Ian Temby told the court that Wilson had several chronic illnesses and might not survive a prison sentence.
Australian state governments are ramping up pressure on the church to report child abuse and are legislating to prosecute priests who maintain that revelations of pedophilia made in the confessional cannot be disclosed. Wilson did not use the seal of the confession as an excuse for failing to acting on allegations against Fletcher. Instead, Wilson testified that he did not recall ever hearing allegations against his fellow priest.
Fletcher was arrested on unrelated child abuse charges in 2004 and died in prison of a stroke in 2006 while serving an almost eight-year sentence.
A five-year national inquiry into child abuse recommended in December that priests be prosecuted for failing to report evidence of pedophilia heard in the confessional.


Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

Updated 21 May 2019
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Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

  • The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims

DHAKA: As the clock strikes 6 p.m., Shudhhanondo Mohathero hurries to the kitchen to alert his army of 15 monks that they have less than 40 minutes until iftar. 

Soon, people will begin queuing outside the Dharmarajika Bouddha Bihar, a Buddhist monastery in Dhaka, where Mohathero hands out free food packs to fasting Muslims who are too poor to buy a meal to end their fast.

It is a tradition that 89-year-old Mohathero started 10 years ago when he assumed responsibility for the temple’s upkeep.

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return,” Mohathero told Arab News.

Built in 1951, the monastery, which is located in Basabo in the eastern part of Dhaka, has been involved in various social welfare activities. Since the start of Ramadan this year, almost 200 food packs have been doled out every day, with plans to double the number by the end of the month. The 15 monks who live in the monastery prepare the food boxes for iftar.

At a cost of around 80 cents, which is funded by the temple, each box contains traditional Bangladeshi iftar items such as puffed rice, boiled and seasoned chickpeas, jilapi (a deep-fried sweet pastry), beguni (deep-fried eggplant) and dal bora (a fried item with smashed lentils and dates).

“In previous years, our junior monks used to prepare iftar at the monastery. This year, however, we are starting to outsource the items due to the sheer volume,” Mohathero said. 

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return.”

Shudhhanondo Mohathero, Chief monk of Dhaka’s Buddhist Monastery

The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims.

“I have been receiving iftar from the monastery for three years. Since my husband works as a daily-wage laborer, this iftar has made our lives very comfortable,” Asma Khatun, a local resident, said.

Another devotee, Sharif Hossain, said that iftar from the monastery “is like a divine blessing.”

“After losing all my properties in a river erosion, I moved to Dhaka just a few months ago and started living in a slum. I can finally feed my family with the iftar provided by the monks,” he said. 

Talking about his experience being part of a project that builds communal harmony, Prantar Borua, an apprentice monk at the temple, said: “We feel proud and happy to be doing such an extraordinary thing. It’s a small contribution to the community, but it’s the best we can do at this moment.”

The monastery’s generosity has won praise from the Bangladesh authorities, too.

“It’s a nice initiative from the Buddhist community, especially at a time when the world is experiencing many hate crimes and interreligious conflicts. It upholds the spirit of religious harmony,” Abdul Hamid Jomaddar, joint secretary of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said.

“Our government believes in the coexistence of different religions, which is the beauty of this secular land,” he added.