Australian Archbishop Steps Down after Cover-Up Conviction for Child Sex Abuse

An Australian archbishop said that he will stand aside but does not intend to resign after becoming the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in the world to be convicted of covering up child sex abuse. Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson was convicted on May 22, 2018 in the Newcastle Local Court, north of Sydney, of concealing the sexual abuse of two altar boys by a pedophile priest in the 1970s. The 67-year-old Wilson, who has Alzheimer’s disease, was released on bail and faces a prison term of up to two years when he is sentenced next month.

In this image made from video, Archbishop Philip Wilson, center, heads to Newcastle Local Court, north of Sydney, Australia Tuesday, May 22, 2018. The Australian archbishop who was the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in the world charged with covering up child sex abuse was convicted Tuesday. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP)

He said he would stand aside on Friday after administrative arrangements were made to manage his archdiocese. Wilson also said he was still discussing the magistrate’s decision with his lawyers. “While I do so, it is appropriate that, in the light of some of his Honor’s findings, I stand aside from my duties as archbishop,” Wilson said in a statement. “If at any point in time it becomes necessary or appropriate for me to take more formal steps, including by resigning as archbishop, then I will do so,” he added. He has not said whether he is considering an appeal.

Wilson was once Australia’s highest-ranking archbishop as president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. The conviction is 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. Before Wilson announced he would step down, Frank Brennan, an Australian Jesuit priest, human rights lawyer and academic, said the move was inevitable.

“There’s no doubt that Archbishop Wilson in recent years … has been one of the good guys. He has been one of the bishops in the Catholic Church who have been trying to clean things up,” Brennan said. “But this relates to when he was a young priest. Even someone like him who later got it back in those years was so confined by our culture that it would seem there was no disclosure,” he added.

An Australian inquiry into child abuse recommended in December that the Catholic Church lift its demand of celibacy from clergy and that priests be prosecuted for failing to report evidence of pedophilia heard in the confessional. An altar boy testified at Wilson’s trial that in the mid-1970s, the then-priest refused to believe the boy’s allegations of abuse made in the confessional.

Australia’s longest-running royal commission – the country’s highest form of inquiry – had been investigating since 2012 how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to sexual abuse of children in Australia over 90 years. The report heard testimony from more than 8,000 survivors of child sex abuse. Of those who were abused in religious institutions, 62 percent were Catholics.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said a couple of months later that Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson should have resigned when he was convicted of failing to report to police the repeated abuse of two altar boys by a pedophile priest in the Hunter Valley region north of Sydney during the 1970s. “He should have resigned and the time has come for the pope to sack him,” Turnbull told reporters.

“I am conscious of calls for me to resign and have taken them very seriously,” Wilson said in a statement this month. “However, at this time, I am entitled to exercise my legal rights and to follow the due process of law. Since that process is not yet complete, I do not intend to resign at this time,” he added. Wilson has been sentenced in a Newcastle court to 12 months in detention.

He remains free on bail and will return to court next month to find out whether he will serve his sentence in prison or at his sister’s house in home detention. He must serve a minimum of six months before becoming eligible for parole.

New South Wales Police Minister Troy Grant, who was a police detective in the 1990s when he uncovered widespread church child molesting in the Hunter Valley, has condemned the Vatican’s support of Wilson. “I’m … disappointed that the response from the Roman Catholic Church in their future plans for this offender nowhere meets community standards or expectations,” Grant said.

Wilson was once Australia’s highest-ranking archbishop as president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.


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