Australian archbishop appeals conviction of not reporting abuse

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Archbishop Emeritus of Adelaide Philip Wilson. Photo Courtesy of the Archdiocese of Adelaide.

Lawyers representing Archbishop Philip Wilson, who was convicted in May of failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse disclosed to him in the 1970s, appealed his conviction this week in a Newcastle court.
Archbishop Wilson was convicted May 22 of failing to report abuse committed by Fr. James Fletcher when Fletcher was charged with child sex abuse in 2004. The victims of the scandal, Peter Creigh and another altar boy who is unnamed for legal reasons, said they both had told Wilson in 1976 of their abusive experience with Fr. Fletcher.

The archbishop 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.

Archbishop Wilson's lawyer, Stephen Odgers, argued Nov. 27-28 that Creigh may not have clearly communicated to Wilson that he had been indecently assaulted, suggesting that under the law in 1976, the act described to Wilson was an indecency, but not an assault.

The ABC reported that Newcastle District Court Judge Roy Ellis countered that it was an assault under 1970s law, saying, “I don't think, in this case, that this is going to be a problem for the prosecution. You have some problems, but this isn't one of them.”

Odgers also questioned the archbishop's memory of a conversation held 28 years before Fletcher was charged, and that he may not have known the information could be of assistance to the police.

Ellis stated, “We have all experienced having forgotten something and being reminded about it and realising you had made a mistake and you were wrong,” according to the ABC.

Ellis also noted that Archbishop Wilson's behavior with a priest who asked him for advice relating to the abuse of another boy by Fletcher was inconsistent with him knowing and failing to report Creigh's story.

Fr. Glen Walsh approached the archbishop in 2004, who “advised Father Walsh he … should be reporting it to police,” Ellis said.

“The way he acted in my mind runs completely contrary to him realising and then not remembering Peter Creigh's evidence.”

Archbishop Wilson did not appear in court for the appeal.

Ellis is to deliver his judgement Dec. 6. He has allowed the archbishop not to attend the judgement in person, but rather electronically.

Wilson was sentenced to 12 months of house arrest July 3, and has been serving the sentence at the home of a relative in New South Wales, wearing a tracking device.

9News reported that if Ellis upholds Archbishop Wilson's conviction, there will be sentencing appeals from both the defence and prosecutors.

Archbishop Wilson resigned as Archbishop of Adelaide July 30, after having said initially he would only do so if his appeal failed.

He said he changed his mind because “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,” and he had become “increasingly worried at the growing level of hurt” his conviction had caused.

Wilson was ordained a priest in 1975, and consecrated a bishop in 1996.

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