For­mer arch­bishop Philip Wil­son ac­quit­ted of cov­er­ing up child sex­ual abuse

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines / News - Aus­tralian As­so­ci­ated Press

A judge has quashed for­mer Ade­laide arch­bishop Philip Wil­son’s con­vic­tion for cov­er­ing up child sex­ual abuse by a pe­dophile priest in the New South Wales Hunter re­gion to pro­tect the Catholic Church.

New­cas­tle district court judge Roy El­lis on Thurs­day up­held Wil­son’s ap­peal against his con­vic­tion say­ing there was rea­son­able doubt the cler­gy­man had com­mit­ted the crime.

El­lis said sus­pi­cion was not a sub­sti­tute for proof be­yond rea­son­able doubt.

Wil­son, 68, who had served al­most four months in home de­ten­tion at his sis­ter’s home, was al­lowed to watch the judge hand down his de­ci­sion via video link from a re­mote lo­ca­tion so he didn’t have to face the me­dia.

The judge on Thurs­day also threw out an ap­peal by the NSW di­rec­tor of pub­lic pros­e­cu­tions against the le­niency of mag­is­trate Robert Stone’s de­ci­sion that Wil­son should serve 12 months of home de­ten­tion.

The prose­cu­tion case was that Wil­son was told by two al­tar boys in 1976 that they’d been abused by pe­dophile priest James Fletcher but the cler­gy­man did noth­ing about it.

It was al­leged he sub­se­quently failed to go to the po­lice af­ter Fletcher was ar­rested in 2004 for abus­ing an­other boy.

One of the two al­tar boys, Pe­ter Creigh, was in tears af­ter the judge’s de­ci­sion on Thurs­day. He was too upset to com­ment out­side court.

As the judge left the bench one on­looker called out: “Bull­shit – that’s a dis­grace.”

Wil­son was fac­ing a max­i­mum of two years in jail when he was sen­tenced on 14 Au­gust to spend at least six months at his sis­ter’s home be­fore be­ing el­i­gi­ble for pa­role.

He was forced to re­sign as arch­bishop of Ade­laide in July af­ter be­com­ing the most se­nior Catholic cler­gy­man in the world to be con­victed of cov­er­ing up child sex­ual abuse.

The mag­is­trate who found Wil­son guilty re­jected claims the cler­gy­man – who is suf­fer­ing from the early stages of Alzheimer’s dis­ease – could not re­mem­ber the two al­tar boys telling him about the abuse in 1976.

Fletcher was con­victed in 2004 of sex­u­ally abus­ing an­other boy and died of a stroke in jail in early 2006.

The de­fence claimed Wil­son was not guilty be­cause the case was cir­cum­stan­tial and there was no ev­i­dence to prove be­yond a rea­son­able doubt the cler­gy­man was told about the abuse, be­lieved it was true or re­mem­bered be­ing told about it.

Dur­ing Wil­son’s two-day ap­peal last week, pros­e­cu­tor He­len Roberts urged El­lis to con­sider how the mag­is­trate had the ben­e­fit of watch­ing both Wil­son and Creigh – the main wit­ness – dur­ing the trial and he’d raised doubts about the cler­gy­man’s cred­i­bil­ity be­fore find­ing him guilty.

Stone found Creigh had been a gen­uine and truth­ful wit­ness who had no mo­tive to make up the con­ver­sa­tion he said he had with Wil­son in 1976.

But El­lis re­peat­edly stated dur­ing the ap­peal that Wil­son was an in­tel­li­gent, ar­tic­u­late man who ap­peared to be do­ing his best to an­swer ques­tions put to him dur­ing the trial.

He said he wasn’t bound by the mag­is­trate’s con­clu­sion that many of Wil­son’s an­swers were “dis­sem­bling and con­trived”.

When sen­tenc­ing Wil­son to home de­ten­tion, Stone said the cler­gy­man had shown no re­morse or con­tri­tion for the cover-up and his pri­mary mo­tive had been to pro­tect the Catholic church.

Pho­to­graph:Dar­ren Pate­man/AP

Arch­bishop Philip Wil­son had his con­vic­tion for cov­er­ing up child sex­ual abuse quashed.

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