Pope Francis on July 30, 2018, accepted the resignation of Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide. The resignation follows the archbishop’s conviction by an Australian court in May of covering up abuses by Fr. James Fletcher in the 1070s. On July 2, 2018, the archbishop was sentenced to a jail term of 12 months.
Two altar boys, 10 and 11 at the time of the incidents, said they told the archbishop that Fr. Fletcher had abused them, but he did nothing. Fr. Fletcher was convicted of abuse in 2004 and died in prison in 2016.
With his resignation, Archbishop Wilson becomes the highest-ranking Catholic cleric to resign for his role in hiding abuse. The archbishop is 67, and suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, said during his trial that he had no recollection of the cases. Ironically, when Wilson was bishop of the Diocese of Wollongong, he gained a reputation as a “healing bishop” for handling child-abuse scandals.
Since his conviction, Archbishop Wilson has been under intense pressure to relinquish his office. Those called for his resignation included the premiere of South Australia, Steven Marshall, the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and opposition leader Bill Shorten, in calling for Wilson to resign immediately.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, issued a statement in reaction to the resignation:
“Pope Francis has this evening accepted Archbishop Philip Wilson’s resignation as Archbishop of Adelaide. His 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.
“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.
“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. He has decided, however, 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.”
In a statement following his resignation, Archbishop Wilson said, “Though my resignation was not requested, I made this decision because I have become increasingly worried at the growing level of hurt that my recent conviction has caused within the community.
“I had hoped to defer this decision until after the appeal process had been completed. However, there is just too much pain and distress being caused by my maintaining the office of Archbishop of Adelaide, especially to the victims of Fr Fletcher. I must end this and therefore have decided that my resignation is the only appropriate step to take in the circumstances.”
Archbishop Wilson grew up in Cessnock, in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales and served as a priest in nearby Maitland.
He was ordained a bishop in 1996 when he was appointed by Pope John Paul II as Bishop of Wollongong. Five years later, he became the eighth Archbishop of Adelaide after Archbishop Leonard Faulkner retired.
In 2006, Archbishop Wilson was made President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, was re-elected in 2008 and also served a further two-year term concluding in 2012.
In 2012 he was elected Vice-President of ACBC and also elected Chair of the Bishops’ Conference Justice Ecology and Development.