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Calls for convicted Archbishop Wilson to resign growing as he appeals court’s decision

Archbishop Philip Wilson

Standing down: Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide leaves the Newcastle Local Court on May 22. The 67-year-old was handed a 12-month prison sentence by a magistrate in the Newcastle Local Court on July 3, after being found guilty of failing to reporting the abuse of two altar boys by a priest in the 1970s. Photo: CNS

Updated July 5, 2:39pm

SOME Australian bishops have added their voice to the growing public debate about whether convicted Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson should resign after receiving an imprisonment sentence for covering up child sexual abuse.

Survivors and prominent Australians including the Prime Minister and Opposition leader have called for Wilson to resign.

“Although we have no authority to compel him to do so, a number of Australian bishops have also offered their advice privately,” Brisbane archbishop and president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Mark Coleridge said.

“Only the Pope can compel a bishop to resign.”

Wilson was convicted for concealing child sexual abuse last month.

On July 3 he received a sentence of 12 months imprisonment with a six-month non-parole period and remains on bail while he is assessed for home detention.

Wilson said he would appeal his conviction, and only resign as archbishop if his legal appeal proved unsuccessful.

“I am conscious of calls for me to resign and gave taken them, very seriously,” he said in the statement.

“I do not intend to resign at this time. However if I am unsuccessful in my appeal, I will immediately offer my resignation to the Holy See.”

In May, Wilson was found guilty of failing to report to police between 2004-2006 the repeated abuse of two altar boys by priest Jim Fletcher, in the New South Wales Hunter region in the 1970s.

Fletcher was convicted of nine child sexual abuse charges in 2004, and died in jail two years later.

“We respect Archbishop Wilson’s right to lodge that appeal; it is the right of any citizen. We also recognise the ongoing pain this has caused survivors, especially those who were abused by Jim Fletcher,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

New South Wales Police Minister Troy Grant, who as a police officer investigated Catholic priests’ offending in the Hunter Valley, told the ABC’s 7.30 program that he was “extremely disappointed” at Wilson’s trial outcome.

”Six months’ home detention? That doesn’t go within a bull’s roar of being commensurate or appropriate,” Mr Grant said.

“He gets to renew his Netflix subscription for six months.”

Wilson has vehemently denied the concealment charge and unsuccessfully attempted to have the case thrown out of court four times before it went to trial in April.

He has already stood aside from his duties as Adelaide Archbishop, with South Australia’s vicar general Father Philip Marshall taking the reins.

 

Original story published July 3

ADELAIDE Archbishop Philip Wilson, convicted for covering up child sexual abuse, has avoided immediate jail, but will be assessed for home detention.

The 67-year-old was handed a 12-month prison sentence by a magistrate in the Newcastle Local Court on July 3, after being found guilty of failing to reporting the abuse of two altar boys by a priest in the 1970s.

Wilson will face court again next month to be assessed for his suitability to serve his sentence as home detention.

The sentence will have a non-parole period of six months.

On May 22, Magistrate Robert Stone found Wilson guilty of concealing a serious indictable offence, when he failed to report the repeated abuse of two altar boys by paedophile priest Jim Fletcher in the 1970s.

During his trial, Wilson denied that he had known about Fletcher’s actions.

Fletcher was convicted of nine child sexual abuse charges in 2004, and died in jail two years later.

The maximum penalty for concealing child sex abuse is two years behind bars.

During a sentencing hearing in June, the prosecution pressed for a maximum jail term sentence, however Wilson’s lawyers claimed he should be spared time in prison due to his age, bad health and a concern he may be attacked by other inmates.

Magistrate Stone said Wilson should be assessed for his suitability to serve home detention at a family member’s home in New South Wales and adjourned the matter until August 14.

Wilson has stood aside from the role as Adelaide Archbishop, with South Australia’s vicar general Father Philip Marshall taking the reins until the case is over.

It is not known whether he will appeal the sentence.

Outside court, child abuse survivor and advocate, Peter Gogarty, said he was disappointed at the likelihood Wilson would serve home detention, but said he “will take comfort in the fact that he (Wilson) has been convicted”.

“Home detention … not being able to move out of a house is probably not very comfortable, but it is certainly going to be more comfortable for the archbishop than spending time in a prison,” Mr Gogarty said.

“I really hope that after this assessment period he does go to jail because I think there needs to be a very strong message to everybody else who’s done this, in this country and around the world that you are not going to get a slap on the wrist for this.”

Lawyer, Jesuit Father Frank Brennan, said the prosecution of Wilson “has taken on great significance” in the wake of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.

He also called for Wilson to resign as archbishop.

“Understandably, victims want to see at least one serving bishop punished for the failings of an institution which has been proven to fall short so often in terms of culture, institutional accountability and personal responsibility,” Fr Brennan wrote on the eurekastreet.com website.

“Philip Wilson has spent six years and great resources engaged in legal appeals trying to avoid this conviction.”

A spokesman for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said the Church had worked hard in recent years to improve child protection and safeguarding practices.

“The Catholic bishops of Australia acknowledge that the effects of sexual abuse can last a lifetime, but we hope that today’s custodial sentence brings some sense of peace and healing to those abused by deceased priest James Fletcher,” an ACBC statement said

“It takes great courage for survivors to come forward to tell their stories.

“Survivors have been vital in helping us learn the lesson of our shameful history of abuse and concealment, which was laid bare in the Royal Commission into Institutional Reponses to Child Sexual Abuse and state inquiries, including the Cunneen Inquiry.

“We will continue to work with all those in the Church and beyond who are seeking to put in place strong and consistent standards of safeguarding throughout Australia, including how we respond to allegations of sexual abuse.”

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