Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of the Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, 67, who was found guilty by an Australian magistrate and given a 12-month prison sentence for failing to inform police about allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by a priest in the 1970s.
The magistrate is expected to decide on Aug. 14 if the archbishop is suitable for home detention.
The Vatican and Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the president of the Australian bishops’ conference, broke the news of the resignation. Many people in Australia, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, called on the archbishop to step down, and several of his fellow bishops privately counseled him to do so. Archbishop Wilson, on the other hand, said he refused to resign until the result of his appeal was decided. He did, however, step aside from his duties as archbishop, and Pope Francis immediately appointed an apostolic administrator, Bishop Gregory O’Kelly, a Jesuit, with executive responsibility for running the diocese.
Archbishop Wilson’s resignation was long expected and, while it is not clear if Rome actually asked for it, its immediate acceptance, like that of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s on Saturday, sends a clear signal that Pope Francis is determined to deal in an unequivocal manner with all cases involving bishops that relate to the abuse of minors or vulnerable adults. In June, the pope accepted the resignations of several Chilean bishops following a papal investigation into the cover-up of sexual abuse there.
Archbishop Wilson is the highest-ranking Catholic bishop to be convicted and sentenced for failure to report a case of abuse.
In a statement sent to the media on July 30, Archbishop Coleridge said Archbishop Wilson’s “decision to resign comes after considering his future following his conviction for failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse that occurred in the 1970s” and that “he has decided that his conviction means he can no longer continue as archbishop because to do so would continue to cause pain and distress to many, especially to survivors, and also in the Archdiocese of Adelaide.”
Archbishop Wilson, a former president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, is the highest-ranking Catholic bishop in the world to be convicted and sentenced for failure to report a case of abuse. He has always protested his innocence and has appealed his conviction.
In his statement today, Archbishop Coleridge said that “while the judicial process will continue, Archbishop Wilson’s resignation is the next chapter in a heartbreaking story of people who were sexually abused at the hands of Jim Fletcher and whose lives were forever changed. This decision may bring some comfort to them, despite the ongoing pain they bear.”
He added that “Archbishop Wilson has been praised by many for his work to support victims and survivors of child sexual abuse as bishop of Wollongong, archbishop of Adelaide and president of the bishops conference.”
On May 22, an Australian magistrate in Newcastle court, New South Wales, Robert Stone, found Archbishop Wilson guilty of failing to inform police about allegations of the sexual abuse of two altar boys by Father Fletcher in the 1970s. He did so after hearing testimonies from the survivors and the archbishop, who categorically denied being told about the abuse. Father Fletcher was found guilty of nine counts of child sexual abuse and sentenced to eight years in prison in 2004, but two years later he suffered a stroke and died in jail.