Trial delayed as Adelaide Archbishop charged over child sex cover-up fails to front court

Published: 28 November 2017

Archbishop Philip Wilson fails to appear in court accused of covering up child-sex abuse

The trial of the world’s most senior Catholic official to be charged over failing to report child sex abuse offences has been put on hold, after a Newcastle court heard he was not physically able to appear in court.

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

However, a Newcastle Magistrate will still hear evidence today from an Adelaide neurologist about recent medication the Archbishop was placed on, following concerns over his mental capacity.

Defence Barrister Stephen Odgers told the court there were concerns over the 67-year-old’s cognitive capacity, which could impair his ability to participate in his two-week trial.

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.

The court is expecting to hear evidence given by a mother of one of Fletcher’s alleged victims, who claims she called the Archbishop in 2004 and told him her son had been sexually abused by Fletcher.

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.

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.

His legal team has applied to have his case stayed until Thursday when he will be able to travel to Newcastle.

Outside court today, when asked if the surgery was a delaying tactic, Mr Odgers said he would not be answering “silly questions.”