The highest ranking Catholic official ever convicted of crimes against children has been sentenced to 12 months in prison for covering up "decades" of sexual abuse of young altar boys by a pedophile ring of priests. 

The highest ranking Catholic official ever convicted of crimes against children has been sentenced to 12 months in prison for covering up “decades” of sexual abuse of young altar boys by a pedophile ring of priests. 

Archbishop Philip Wilson was sentenced to a year in prison, after he was found guilty in Australia of covering up decades of sexual abuse including the rape of two altar boys by a pedophile priest, Jim Fletcher, in the 1970s. Fletcher, who was found guilty of nine counts of child sexual abuse, died of a stroke in prison in 2016 while he was serving an eight-year sentence.

Archbishop Philip Wilson said he thought it was his duty to protect the image of the church, not the innocence of the children.

On Tuesday, Magistrate Robert Stone of denouncedthe decades of abuse and its concealment” and said Wilson, who is 67-years-old, must serve at least six months in prison before he is eligible to apply for parole.

Magistrate Stone said Archbishop Wilson failed to report pedophile priests who were raping and abusing young children because he “wanted to protect the church and its image” rather than protect the innocent young lives being destroyed at the hands of the network of powerful pedophile clergy.

However Pope Francis has refused to defrock or denounce Archbishop Wilson, while insisting the convicted child sex offender will return to his duties after his prison term, providing he prays to God for forgiveness.

The Archbishop’s prison sentence was welcomed by some of the survivors of abuse by pedophile priests, who believe this case will be a precedent for other abusers in the Church ranks to be punished.

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Archbishop Philip Wilson arrives at Newcastle Local Court, in Newcastle, Australia, where he was sentenced to prison.

“We are making progress at cutting this cancer out of the Catholic Church. A few years ago nobody would have believed you if you said Archbishops would be sent to jail. They are too powerful. But they are not above the law any longer. Nobody is above the law.”

One of Fletcher’s victims, Peter Gogarty, said he was extremely proud of the fact that he and other sex abuse survivors were able to bring to account the “highest-ranked church official… for what we know was a worldwide systematic abuse of children and the concealment of that abuse.

Survivors who protested outside the court, called on Wilson to resign his post and called the Church a “fraudulent cult” run by a network of pedophiles who prey on the most vulnerable members of society.

Archbishop Wilson’s defense insisted he wouldn’t survive prison because of his chronic illnesses and are asking for home detention.

The sentence was announced as Australia is trying to pass laws requiring priests to report child abuse they heard about in the confessional. But Australian priests have spoken out against this proposal, saying Church laws take precedence for them.

The Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, caused outrage earlier this year when he said sexually abused children can experience “a spiritual encounter with God through the priest” while being molested.

Asked whether he was prepared to be jailed for failing to report child sex abuse by Catholic pedophile priests, Archbishop Hart confirmed he was willing to serve prison time.  He also claimed the right to cover for pedophiles in the church is an “absolutely sacrosanct communication of a higher order.“

He made the shocking statement in response to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which stated there should be “no excuse, protection nor privilege” for Catholic clergy who failed to alert police of abuse within the church.

But Archbishop Hart disagreed and insisted that sexual abuse was “a spiritual encounter with God through the priest” and was “of a higher order” than criminal law.