Adelaide Archbishop ordered to stand trial over child sex abuse cover up charges

Published: 06 December 2017

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson fit to stand trial

The trial of the world’s most senior Catholic official to be charged over failing to report child sex abuse offences will go ahead, after a Newcastle magistrate deemed him fit to stand trial.

Philip Wilson, Archbishop of Adelaide, had his trial delayed last week after “acting on medical advice” not to travel, following pacemaker surgery and because of concerns over his cognitive capacity, according to his defence barrister.

Earlier last week the Archbishop was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, for which his defence team said he was taking medication which could take six months to work.

In a statement Archbishop Wilson said he hoped the prescribed medication would assist in slowing the progress of the disease and improving his current health.

“It is a present reality that much stigma is still associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

“An initial reaction by many people is to think that life is all but over, and that a person with such a diagnosis cannot continue to live a productive life and contribute to society.

“If a point comes in the next eight years before my mandatory retirement as Archbishop of Adelaide… and I am advised by my doctors that the effects of Alzheimer’s disease might be beginning to impair my ability to function properly as Archbishop, I will offer my resignation."

But after a one-week delay to his trial, the Newcastle Local Court heard evidence this morning from a South Australian neuropsychologist, who deemed him well enough to stand trial after examining the 67-year-old’s health.

Archbishop Wilson was charged in 2015 with failing to report child sex abuse allegations concerning another priest, dating back to the 1970s.

It’s alleged in 1976 the Archbishop was aware that Maitland parish priest James Fletcher had indecently assaulted a 10-year-old boy in 1971, and the Archbishop failed to disclose that information to police during investigations between 2004-2006.

It also alleged that in 1976, during a confession, another child also revealed to Archbishop Wilson – who was newly ordained in his first parish – that Fletcher had sexually assaulted him.

It is believed Fletcher continued abusing children for nearly 30 years following those incidents.

He was convicted in 2004 on nine charges of assault and aggravated indecency over a number of years. The convicted former priest died from a stroke while in custody in 2006.

Archbishop Wilson has maintained his innocence since charges were first filed against him in 2015.

In a statement released when he was first charged, the Archbishop said he “vigorously” denied the allegations and expressed “deep sorrow for the devastating impact of clerical sex abuse on victims and their families.”

“I give an assurance that despite this charge, I will continue to do what I can to protect the children in our care in the Archdiocese of Adelaide,” he said at the time.

Over the last two years his legal team has attempted and failed on three separate occasions to have the charges quashed.

In June this year his final attempt was unanimously dismissed by the New South Wales Court of Appeal.

If convicted, the Archbishop faces a maximum two years in jail for concealing a serious indictable offence.

He is due to face a Newcastle court this afternoon.