For­mer arch­bishop cleared in sex­ual abuse case

Aus­tralian cleric had been con­victed of cover­ing up priest’s acts

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

NEW­CAS­TLE, AUS­TRALIA — An Aus­tralian ap­peals court over­turned a con­vic­tion Thurs­day against the most se­nior Ro­man Catholic cleric to be found guilty of cover­ing up child sex­ual abuse.

New South Wales state Dis­trict Court Judge Roy El­lis up­held for­mer Adelaide Arch­bishop Philip Wil­son’s ap­peal of his May con­vic­tion in a lower court for con­ceal­ing the sex­ual abuse of two al­tar boys by a pe­dophile priest in the 1970s.

El­lis found that there was rea­son­able doubt that Wil­son, 68, had com­mit­ted the crime, which is pun­ish­able by up to two years in prison.

Wil­son has served al­most four months of a year-long sen­tence of home de­ten­tion at his sis­ter’s house out­side New­cas­tle. He was to be­come el­i­gi­ble for pa­role af­ter serv­ing six months.

The judge also dis­missed a pros­e­cu­tion ap­peal against the le­niency of the sen­tence.

Wil­son was al­lowed to watch the de­ci­sion via a video link from a re­mote lo­ca­tion so he could avoid me­dia cam­eras at the New­cas­tle court.

Wil­son has al­ways main­tained his in­no­cence. Af­ter his con­vic­tion, he ini­tially re­fused calls for his res­ig­na­tion un­til he had ex­hausted his ap­peal op­tions. How­ever, he quit in July af­ter thenPrime Minister Mal­colm Turn­bull called on the Vat­i­can to act.

Philip Mar­shall, ad­min­is­tra­tor del­e­gate of the Adelaide Arch­dio­cese, Wil­son’s re­place­ment, said the church noted the judg­ment and wel­comed the con­clu­sion of a process that had been long and painful for all con­cerned.

“We now need to con­sider the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of this out­come,” Mar­shall said in a state­ment.

“The sur­vivors of child sex­ual abuse and their fam­i­lies are in our thoughts and prayers, and the arch­dio­cese re­mains com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing the safest pos­si­ble en­vi­ron­ments for chil­dren and vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple in our care,” he added.

The pros­e­cu­tion said Wil­son was told by two al­tar boys in 1976 that they had been abused by pe­dophile priest James Fletcher but did noth­ing about it. It was al­leged that he sub­se­quently failed to go to the po­lice af­ter Fletcher was ar­rested in 2004 for abus­ing an­other boy.

One of the two vic­tims, Peter Creigh, was in tears af­ter the judge’s de­ci­sion and too up­set to com­ment out­side court. Creigh has pre­vi­ously agreed to be iden­ti­fied in the me­dia as a vic­tim of child sex­ual abuse.

In May, New­cas­tle Mag­is­trate Robert Stone re­jected the tes­ti­mony of Wil­son, who is suf­fer­ing from the early stages of Alzheimer’s dis­ease; Wil­son said he could not re­mem­ber the al­tar boys telling him of the abuse.

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

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