Archbishop's refusal to go undermines church's stand on child abuse

Archbishop's refusal to go undermines church's stand on child abuse

Catholic bishops and community leaders were quick to issue dramatic and heart felt mea culpas over the church's failures following the release of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse's report in December, 2017.

The then president of the Australian Catholic Bishop's Conference, Denis Hart, cut straight to the heart of the issue: "This is a shameful past, in which a prevailing culture of secrecy and self-protection led to unnecessary suffering for many victims and their families," he said.

"Once again I reiterate my unconditional apology for this suffering and a commitment to ensuring justice for those affected."

What we now know is Archbishop Philip Wilson, the eighth Archbishop of Adelaide, and the president of the ACBC from 2006 to 2010, was at the front and centre of this "shameful past".

Wilson had been issued with a court attendance notice by NSW Police in March 2015 as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations he had allegedly concealed a serious offence regarding child sexual abuse in the Hunter region.


He was found guilty, in the Newcastle Local Court on May 22, of failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse by convicted paedophile Maitland priest, James Fletcher, dating back to 1976.

When Wilson returned to court for sentencing on July 3 he was placed on 12 months detention with a six month non-parole period.

Magistrate Robert Stone said: "there is no remorse or contrition [being] shown by the offender... the sentence should not be suspended. [That would] not support the terms of general deterrence."

Wilson is the most senior Catholic anywhere in the world to have been convicted of, and sentenced for, this type of offence.

He has flagged his intention to appeal and, in a stand widely denounced by the victims, the broader community, many of his fellow bishops and, most recently, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, is refusing to resign.

Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten both say the Pope should sack Wilson given he is not willing to do the right thing of his own accord.


That call has had the remarkable effect of sparking a reformation-era style debate over whether or not secular authorities can and should be telling the church what to do.

This particular rabbit hole, while potentially of intellectual interest in other, less fraught, circumstances is a ridiculous red herring.

While Wilson's motivations are known only to himself, it would be fair to say most people believe he is demonstrating an intransigent self-interest that has no connection whatever to the preservation of spiritual values or religious martyrdom.

His words and actions have already done immense damage to the Catholic church and made a mockery of the valiant attempts by his peers to assure the world the old attitudes had been swept away.

"I'm appalled by the sinful and criminal activity of some clergy, religious and lay church workers [and] I'm ashamed of the failure to respond by some church leaders [and] I stand ready to address any systemic issues behind this," the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, said in 2017.

How can his statement, and the many others like it that were made at the time, be taken seriously given the Catholic church's ongoing refusal to sack Wilson?

Most Viewed in Politics