The most senior Catholic to be charged with concealing child abuse was found guilty of covering up abuse by priest Jim Fletcher in the 1970s.
Archbishop Philip Wilson’s involvement in turning a blind eye to or covering up Fletcher’s heinous crimes resulted in a criminal charge against Wilson and now he has been found guilty. “I am obviously disappointed at the decision published today,” the Adelaide archbishop Wilson said about the verdict. “I will now have to consider the reasons and consult closely with my lawyers to determine the next steps.”
Wilson will be sentenced in June and faces a maximum two-year jail term. Fletcher, Wilson’s pedophile priest colleague, was convicted of nine child sexual abuse charges in 2004, and died in jail of a stroke in 2006. Last month, Wilson told the Newcastle Local Court he had no knowledge of priest James Fletcher's actions, which took place when he was an assistant priest in Maitland, 130 km (80 miles) north of Sydney.
The Guardian reports:
Witnesses said they had told Wilson of the abuse but he had failed to follow up their complaints. One witness, now in his 50s, said Wilson had told him the abuse claims were lies because Fletcher “was a good bloke”.
Wilson had worked with Fletcher and lived with him for a short period of time but denied they were friends.
“The likelihood of two young boys individually telling the accused [Wilson] of acts of sexual misconduct by another priest who the accused knows … are matters I am very confident would be remembered for a very long time,” the magistrate said.
“In addition, the accused wanted to protect the church and its image.”
"Archbishop Philip Wilson has been found guilty of failing to inform police about allegations of child sexual abuse," Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president, Archbishop Mark Coleridge said in a statement released on Tuesday after the verdict.
"Archbishop Wilson maintained his innocence throughout this long judicial process. The Catholic Church, like other institutions, has learned a great deal about the tragedy of child sexual abuse and has implemented stronger programs, policies and procedures to protect children and vulnerable adults.
"The safety of children and vulnerable adults is paramount for the church and its ministries."
Which is really more important for churches: to protect children from abuse, or to protect their own reputation? In the past, it has been proven repeatedly that not only individuals from the church were turning a blind eye to sexual abuse of children, but rather that there was a collective blindness for such crimes. Let’s hope from now on that the safety of children will really be in the first place for the church.
Photo Credits: The Malay Mail Online