Cover-up: cleric cleared

Ex-arch­bishop has con­vic­tion for cov­er­ing up child abuse by pae­dophile priest over­turned

The Star Late Edition - - WORLD - SUBEL BHANDARI

AUS­TRALIAN for­mer arch­bishop Philip Wil­son has had his con­vic­tion for cov­er­ing up child sex abuse over­turned on ap­peal.

In May, the 68-year-old priest be­came the most se­nior Catholic of­fi­cial in the world to be con­victed of con­ceal­ing child sex abuse in re­la­tion to crimes com­mit­ted by a pae­dophile priest in the 1970s.

But yes­ter­day New­cas­tle Dis­trict Court Judge Roy El­lis up­held Wil­son’s ap­peal, con­clud­ing there was rea­son­able doubt that he had com­mit­ted the of­fence.

Wil­son, who re­signed as arch­bishop of Ade­laide in July, had been serv­ing his 12-month sen­tence in home de­ten­tion at his sis­ter’s home in New South Wales.

Wil­son, who has been di­ag­nosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s, did not ap­pear in court for the rul­ing.

Fa­ther Philip Mar­shall, the ad­min­is­tra­tor del­e­gate of the Ade­laide Arch­dio­cese, said the Catholic Church would con­sider the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the court’s de­ci­sion.

“We note the out­come of the judg­ment handed down to­day by Judge Roy El­lis and wel­come the con­clu­sion of a process that has been long and painful for all con­cerned,” he said.

Judge El­lis also threw out an ap­peal by pub­lic pros­e­cu­tors re­gard­ing the le­niency of Wil­son’s sen­tence. They had asked for jail, not home ar­rest.

Wil­son was an as­sis­tant parish priest in East Mait­land in New South Wales when the abuse took place.

His mag­is­trate-only trial in May found that he knew that priest James Fletcher was sex­u­ally abus­ing al­tar boys, but dis­missed their “cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions” be­cause of his de­sire to pro­tect the Church and its rep­u­ta­tion.

Fletcher was found guilty in De­cem­ber 2004 on nine counts of child sex­ual abuse. He died in jail two years later.

Dur­ing his trial, Wil­son claimed to have no mem­ory of a 1976 con­ver­sa­tion he had with the al­leged vic­tims, but the judge found that the arch­bishop knew enough that he should have come for­ward when Fletcher was charged with child sex of­fences.

Dur­ing the ap­peal last week, Wil­son’s lawyers said he was not guilty be­cause the case was cir­cum­stan­tial and there was no ev­i­dence to prove be­yond a rea­son­able doubt the cler­gy­man had been told about the abuse, be­lieved it was true or re­mem­bered be­ing told about it.

One of the two al­tar boys, Pe­ter Creigh, was in tears af­ter the judge’s de­ci­sion yes­ter­day. “Bulls*** – that’s a dis­grace,” one on­looker said in the court­room af­ter the judge had left.

It is likely that pros­e­cu­tors will ap­peal yes­ter­day’s rul­ing.

Aus­tralia has strug­gled to con­front the preva­lence of child sex­ual abuse in the na­tion’s Catholic Church and other in­sti­tu­tions.

Last year, a five-year-long Royal Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into child sex­ual abuse found tens of thou­sands of chil­dren had been sex­u­ally abused be­tween 1960 and 2015 in in­sti­tu­tions in Aus­tralia, in­clud­ing schools, churches and re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions. | dpa


FOR­MER Ade­laide Arch­bishop Philip Wil­son leaves New­cas­tle Lo­cal Court, in New­cas­tle, Aus­tralia, af­ter a post-sen­tence de­ci­sion in this Au­gust 2018 file pic­ture.AAP Im­age via AP

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