Pope accepts resignation of Australian archbishop convicted of not reporting abuse

By Hannah Brockhaus

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Archbishop Philip Wilson. Courtesy of the Archdiocese of Adelaide.

Pope Francis accepted Monday the resignation of Archbishop Philip Wilson following calls for the prelate’s removal as head of the Archdiocese of Adelaide. Wilson was convicted in May of failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse disclosed to him in the 1970s.

A July 30 announcement from the Vatican stated that Archbishop Wilson had submitted his “resignation of the pastoral government of the archdiocese” and that it had been accepted by Pope Francis.

The resignation followed cries from political and Church leaders in Australia for Wilson to either resign or to be removed by Pope Francis, including from prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who asked the pope to dismiss the archbishop July 19.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian bishops’ conference, also said that “a number of survivors, prominent Australians and other members of the community have publicly called on Archbishop 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,” he said, adding that “only the Pope can compel a bishop to resign.”

In a statement on his resignation July 30, Wilson said he submitted his resignation letter to Pope Francis July 20.

He was not requested to do so by the Vatican, he said, but he made the decision because he had become “increasingly worried at the growing level of hurt” his conviction may have caused.

Wilson also noted his previous intention to defer the decision of whether to step down until after the completion of his appeal process, but said, “there is just too much pain and distress being caused by my maintaining the office of Archbishop of Adelaide, especially to the victims of Fr. Fletcher.”

“I must end this and therefore have decided that my resignation is the only appropriate step to take in the circumstances.”

Wilson, 67, was convicted May 22 of concealing abuse committed by a fellow parish priest in New South Wales in the 1970s. At the time, Wilson had been ordained a priest for only one year.

The victims of the scandal, Peter Creigh and another altar boy who is unnamed for legal reasons, said they both had told Wilson of their abusive experience with Fr. James Fletcher.

Wilson has maintained his innocence throughout the process, saying he had no recollection of the accusations, and insisting that if he had been notified of the scandal, he would have offered pastoral care to the victims and their families, and reported the event to his superiors.

According to CNN, the archbishop’s legal team argued that in the 1970s, child sex abuse was not understood to be a serious crime that should be reported to authorities.

His legal team had attempted four times to have the case thrown out, including after the archbishop was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease late last year, but it was denied.

The archbishop was sentenced July 3 to a 12-month sentence, which will likely be served as house arrest, but said July 4 he planned to appeal the conviction. Wilson said he was aware of the calls for his resignation, and was taking them very seriously, but intended to resign only in the case of the failure of the new appeal.

In June Pope Francis appointed Bishop Gregory O’Kelly of Port Pirie apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Adelaide. O’Kelly will continue to oversee the archdiocese until the appointment of a new bishop.

Upon the announcement of Wilson’s resignation, Bishop O’Kelly said that the last few weeks had been a “testing time for so many,” including both victims of abuse in the Church and the archbishop himself.

“With the resignation, may there now be a time of healing for all concerned,” he continued. “May we not forget the good the Archbishop had done in so many ways while at the same time renewing our resolve to care for those who have been hurt by personnel of the Church.”

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