12 April 2018
Australian Archbishop loses bid to have court case thrown out
Magistrate dismisses submission that AB Wilson had no case to answer on charge of concealing child sex abuse
Adelaide’s Archbishop Philip Wilson has lost his fourth attempt to have a charge against him thrown out after Magistrate Robert Stone, in Newcastle Local Court in New South Wales, ruled against his application to do so.
Mr Stone dismissed a submission by defence barrister Stephen Odgers, SC, that Archbishop Wilson had no case to answer on a charge that he concealed child sexual abuse by a fellow priest in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle in the 1970s when Fr Wilson, then an assistant priest, was living in the same presbytery as Fr James Fletcher. Fletcher died in prison in 2006, where he was serving a sentence after being convicted on nine counts of child sexual abuse.
Mr Odgers had argued that the case against Archbishop Wilson should be thrown out because it was circumstantial and there was no evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Archbishop had been told about the abuse, believed it was true or remembered being told about it.
The hearing resumed this week after being adjourned in December.
The 67-year-old Archbishop, a former President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference who has led the Church in Adelaide since 2001, told the court last year that he had been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Two former altar boys alleged that they had told then Fr Wilson in 1976 that Fletcher had sexually abused them.
One of Fletcher's victims, Peter Creigh, said he trusted that Fr Wilson would take action against the priest after telling him what Fletcher had done to him in 1971 when he was 10 years old. But he said Fr Wilson did nothing and never reported the matter to police.
Archbishop Wilson told the court on 11 April that he had known Peter Creigh and his family in the 1970s but had no memory of Mr Creigh telling him of the abuse.
He said the alleged conversation was unlikely to have occurred because Mr Creigh, when giving evidence in December, claimed he went into graphic detail about what Fletcher had done to him.
“I don’t think I would have forgotten that,” Archbishop Wilson said.
Asked by Mr Odgers what he would have done if told about the abuse, Archbishop Wilson said his first priority would have been to provide pastoral care to the then 15-year-old boy and his family. He said he would also have reported the allegations to his superiors.
Asked if he had had any suspicions about Fletcher, Archbishop Wilson replied: “No, I had none.”
Another former altar boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said he was about 11 in 1976 when he went into the confessional box to tell then Fr Wilson that Fletcher had abused him. But he said Fr Wilson told him he was telling lies because Fletcher was “a good bloke”. The witness said was ordered out of the confessional and told to say 10 Hail Marys as an act of contrition.
Archbishop Wilson told the court that he had no memory of seeing the second altar boy at all in 1976 but that he would never tell anyone in the confessional box that they were telling lies.
Questioned about his health, Archbishop Wilson said the prescribed medication he was taking to treat his Alzheimer’s had helped improve his memory “although it’s not perfect”.
In February 2016, Mr Stone had initially refused to quash or permanently stay the proceedings and a NSW Supreme Court judge dismissed the Archbishop’s appeal later that year. The NSW Court of Appeal also ruled against Archbishop Wilson last year.
The hearing continues.
Pic: The Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson (right) leaves the Newcastle Local Court in Newcastle, Thursday April 12, 2018. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman/PA)
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