Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide has joined Rome-based Australian Cardinal George Pell in being required to wait for Australian courts of law to determine their fates.
Magistrate Robert Stone in Newcastle Local Court, north of Sydney, reserved his decision on On 13 April, in Archbishop Wilson’s trial on a charge of concealing child sexual abuse by a fellow priest, Fr James Fletcher, when the Archbishop was an assistant priest in his home Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle in the 1970s.
The 67-year-old prelate, who has been Archbishop of Adelaide since 2001 and is a former President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, faces up to two years in jail if convicted.
This week, he told the court that medication had helped his memory since he was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease late last year.
Fletcher was sentenced to imprisonment on nine counts of child sexual abuse in December 2004 and died in prison in January 2006.
Cardinal Pell, who is on leave from his Vatican post as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, is waiting to hear if Magistrate Belinda Wallington will commit him to trial on multiple historical sexual offence charges involving multiple complainants after a four-week hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court last month. The 76-year-old Cardinal, a former Archbishop of Melbourne and later of Sydney, has strenuously denied the charges, the details of which have not yet been made public.
The court is to sit again on Tuesday (17 April) to rule on supplementary submissions from the defence and the prosecution's response, with Cardinal Pell excused from attending the sitting.
Ms Wallington’s decision on whether to commit Cardinal Pell to trial in either the County Court or the Supreme Court in the State of Victoria is expected later this month.
Archbishop Wilson, too, denies the charge against him, with his defence arguing that he is not guilty because the case is circumstantial and there's no evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was told about the abuse, believed it was true or remembered being told about it.
Closing arguments were heard on the final day of Archbishop Wilson’s trial, with Prosecutor Gareth Harrison saying Mr Stone should have doubts about Archbishop Wilson’s honesty, describing him as consummate Catholic politician who “was part of an entrenched, toxic culture of covering things up." He had ducked and weaved in his attempts not to incriminate himself, Mr Harrison said.
“Victims come second,” he said.
Mr Harrison accused Archbishop Wilson of acting like a "cat on a hot tin roof" when trying to absolve himself of guilt over claims that he covered up child sex abuse.
But Mr Stephen Odgers, SC, said in his closing address for the defence that Archbishop Wilson hadn't been ducking and weaving questions but rather had been careful to give precise answers.
Mr Odgers said even if Mr Stone had serious doubts about the Archbishop’s honesty, there was no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he was lying. He urged the Magistrate to accept that Archbishop Wilson was an honest person despite the mud thrown at him by the prosecutor.
On 12 April, Mr Harrison had cross-examined Archbishop Wilson and asked what it would take for him to believe allegations of abuse by four boys. The Archbishop replied that belief had to be based “on an admission or the end of a trial with a conviction”.
The prosecution alleged that in a 2004 conversation with the father of one of Fletcher's victims – who said, "If I had a gun, I would kill him (Fletcher)" – the Archbishop had replied: "I wouldn't blame you."
Archbishop Wilson told the court that he could have said that to the victim's father, as "I could understand how he would feel".
Pic: The Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, arrives at the Newcastle Local Court in Newcastle, Friday April 13, 2018. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman/PA)