Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide found guilty

Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide has been found guilty of covering up child sexual abuse.

He is the most senior Catholic official in the world to be charged and convicted of this offence.

The 67-year old faces a possible two-year prison sentence.

Wilson will be sentenced next week.

He has announced he will stand down from his duties while he considers his legal options.

He says he may formally resign as archbishop if it becomes necessary.

Frank Brennan, an Australian Jesuit priest, human rights lawyer and academic, said Wilson had to stand aside as archbishop of the South Australian state capital.

“I would think that the mind of Pope Francis at this stage would be that if there be a conviction of a bishop in relation to a failure to disclose abuse in circumstances where the state thought that was criminal activity, then I would think the mind of the pope would be that that doesn’t measure up in church terms either and that therefore it would be impossible for someone to remain in the job as a bishop,” Brennan said.

Brennan said Wilson had complied with the nondisclosure culture of the church in the 1970s.

“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.

The abuse Wilson concealed was committed by Fr Jim Fletcher in the 1970s.

The prosecutor, Gareth Harrison, told the court Wilson must be jailed to deter others from trying to protect the Catholic church from abuse allegations.

Wilson claimed no-one had ever come forward to tell him of allegations of child sex abuse during his 40 years as a clergyman.

The magistrate cast that claim aside.

Speaking outside court, abuse survivor Peter Gogarty said the verdict was “one of the most significant days in criminal law in Australian history.”

“I think this will now open the doors for other jurisdictions to start looking at trying to prosecute people who deliberately looked after their institution and, literally, threw children to the wolves,” he said.

“On behalf of all of the victims — who have been abused in this country and elsewhere — I just want to say what an enormous relief it is that the people who let this happen are finally being brought to account.”

Wilson also made a statement, saying he would consider the reasons for the magistrate’s ruling.

“I am obviously disappointed at the decision published today,” he said.

“I will now have to consider the reasons and consult closely with my lawyers to determine the next steps.”


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