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Former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson dies aged 70

Vale: Former Adelaide archbishop Philip Wilson has died at the age of 70.

THE Church is mourning the death of the former Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, aged 70.

Even though he suffered a series of health issues in recent years, including cancer, his death on Sunday, January 17 was unexpected, according to the Archdiocese of Adelaide.

Close friend, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference tweeted: “Philip Wilson, Emeritus Archbishop of Adelaide, has died unexpectedly this afternoon … a true man of the Church and a good friend who suffered greatly,” he said.

“Beyond the darkness of Calvary may he know the light of Easter.”

In 2018, Emeritus Archbishop Wilson was convicted of covering up the crimes of pedophile priest James Fletcher, who was found guilty of sexual abuse committed in the NSW Hunter region in the 1970s.

That conviction led him to resign, but it was later quashed on appeal, with a court finding there were doubts the archbishop had been told about the abuse.

In quashing the conviction, District Court judge,  Roy Ellis said there was “no direct evidence” Archbishop Wilson remembered being told about the abuse or believed the victim had been preyed upon by Fletcher.

“It is not for me to punish the Catholic Church for its institutional moral deficits, or to punish Philip Wilson for the sins of the now deceased James Fletcher by finding Philip Wilson guilty, simply on the basis that he is a Catholic priest,” Judge Ellis said.

Archbishop Patrick O’Regan, who last year succeeded Archbishop Wilson as Archbishop of Adelaide, said: “A harrowing period of allegations, charges, conviction and eventually acquittal was a significant chapter on Philip’s life, but his record of supporting and advocating on behalf of victims and survivors is part of his legacy.” 

“Philip knew what pain many people had endured and suffered as a result of the sickening actions of some within the Church. He was part of the solution, and widely recognised as such,” Archbishop O’Regan said.

Born in the Hunter region, a young Philip Wilson studied at St Columba’s College, Springwood and St Patrick’s College Manly before being ordained a priest of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

Later, after his ordination as Bishop of Wollongong in 1996, he became an important figure in introducing reforms to help the Catholic Church respond to the issue of child sexual abuse. 

Archbishop Wilson helped draft a new Church policy to deal nationally with abuse victims and perpetrators, Towards Healing.

He was appointed Archbishop of Adelaide in 2001 – another milestone in his 45 years of priestly ministry. 

Archbishop Wilson also served as president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference for two terms, from 2006 to 2010.

“He made major contributions to the Church and the wider communities in which he ministered, and was seen as a valuable part of the Bishops Conference, including during four years as president of the national assembly of about 40 bishops,” Archbishop O’Regan said.

Another prominent churchman, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a former auxiliary bishop of Sydney, died on December 29 after a long battle with terminal illness. He was 83.

Bishop Robinson served for 60 years as priest.

 He was a canon lawyer and law lecturer, and had been a bishop for 36 years.

“Bishop Robinson was an outspoken voice for the victims of child sexual abuse within the Church and the need for just redress and effective child protection going forward,” Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said.

“He was undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in moving the Church forward on these matters.” 

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