Australian archbishop to step down after child sex abuse cover-up

Australian archbishop to step down after child sex abuse cover-up
Seven Network via CNN
Philip Wilson

An Australian archbishop convicted of concealing child sex abuse by a fellow priest will step down from his position.

Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson announced his decision on Wednesday, the day after he was found guilty of concealing the abuse of altar boys by a pedophile priest colleague.

Wilson, who is the highest ranking Catholic official globally to be convicted of the offense and faces up to two years in prison, said he will stand aside on Friday.

“It is appropriate that, in the light of some of his Honour’s findings, I stand aside from my duties as Archbishop,” he said in a statement.

“If at any point in time it becomes necessary or appropriate for me to take more formal steps, including by resigning as Archbishop, then I will do so,” he added.

Wilson said that he is considering the reason’s for the judgment and did not indicate whether he would appeal.

The 67-year-old was found guilty of having concealed the abuse of Father James Fletcher in the state of New South Wales in the 1970s .

Wilson was a junior priest when Fletcher, a Catholic priest based in the Hunter Valley, abused the altar boys. Wilson was charged in 2015 with failing to report Fletcher’s abuse to police.

Fletcher died in prison in 2006, a year after being found guilty of eight counts of child abuse and sentenced to 10 years.

The Newcastle court ruled on Tuesday that the boys had told Wilson about the abuse and that he had failed to report it as he wanted to protect the church’s reputation.

Wilson is expected to be sentenced by the court in June.

Earlier this month, Vatican Treasurer Cardinal George Pell faced his first appearance at an Australian higher court after a Melbourne magistrate ordered him to stand trial on multiple charges of historical abuse.

Pell is the most senior figure in the Catholic Church to face criminal charges for alleged assault. He is on leave from the Vatican while he contests the claims.

In December 2017, a Royal Commission in Australia made recommendations that the Vatican should move to change ancient canon laws in order to reduce future risk of sexual abuse.

The inquiry heard that 7% of Catholic priests working in Australia between 1950 and 2010 had been accused of child sex crimes and that more than 1,000 people had filed child sexual assault claims against the Anglican Church over 35 years.