UPDATED: Adelaide’s Catholic Archbishop, Philip Wilson, has been charged by police with concealing child sex abuse.
NSW police have confirmed to InDaily that a charge has been laid.
Police have issued Wilson, who is vice-president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, with a future court attendance notice.
He is charged with concealing a serious indictable offence, having allegedly failed to report child sex abuse allegedly committed by paedophile priest Jim Fletcher during the 1970s.
Fletcher, now deceased, was found guilty of nine charges relating to the sexual abuse of a teenager between 1989 and 1991.
Wilson had previously worked with him in the Maitland Diocese, near Newcastle in NSW.
Wilson released a statement this afternoon saying he completely denied the allegation and was disappointed NSW Police had decided to file a charge.
“The suggestion appears to be that I failed to bring to the attention of police a conversation I am alleged to have had in 1976, when I was a junior priest, that a now deceased priest had abused a child,” he said.
“From the time this was first brought to my attention last year, I have completely denied the allegation. I intend to vigorously defend my innocence through the judicial system and I have retained Senior Counsel, Mr Ian Temby AO, who will represent me in respect of it.
“I am unable to make any further comment at this stage, but I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to dealing proactively with the issue of child sexual abuse and the implementation of best-practice child protection measures which I have pioneered since becoming a bishop.
“My efforts in this regard have been widely acknowledged, including as a result of evidence I gave to hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in NSW and SA.
“I would again like to express my deep sorrow for the devastating impact of clerical sex abuse on victims and their families, and 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.
“I intend to take some leave to consult with a wide range of people in response to the information I have received today.”
A NSW police statement confirms “a man has been charged after allegedly concealing a serious offence regarding child sexual abuse in the Hunter region”.
“Police will allege a 64-year-old man, of South Australia, concealed a serious offence,” the statement reads.
“Today (Tuesday, 17 March 2015), a future court attendance notice was served for conceal serious offence. The man is due to appear in Newcastle Local Court on Thursday 30 April 2015.”
The Australian newspaper reports Wilson is the most senior Catholic official worldwide to face court over such an allegation, which could draw a two-year prison term if found guilty.
Strike Force Lantle was initiated in 2010 to investigate allegations of concealment of serious offences related to child abuse by clergy formerly and currently attached to the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese of the Catholic Church.
Wilson has previously defended his conduct in relation to the matter, after a 2010 ABC-TV report alleged a “conspiracy of silence” about sexual abuse cases involving fellow clergy in NSW.
The Archbishop told The Australian at the time he had not mishandled nor covered up sexual abuse cases during his time in the diocese.
“I have always tried to act correctly in these areas, and to do what’s right, and I have such an abhorrence of this,” he was quoted as saying.
“The thing is I was 25 in 1975 when I was ordained as a priest. I thought maybe people had difficulties of virtue in regard to sexuality and so on in the priesthood, but I didn’t know there were such people as pedophiles. In my life, I had never seen anything to raise suspicion this was happening.”
He said he lived in the same house as Fletcher in 1982, when the victim who alleged the “conspiracy of silence” was already 22.
“I had no suspicion there was anything happening at all…if I’d have known, I would have done something about it,” he said in 2010.
We value local independent journalism. We hope you do too.
InDaily provides valuable, local independent journalism in South Australia. As a news organisation it offers an alternative to The Advertiser, a different voice and a closer look at what is happening in our city and state for free. Any contribution to help fund our work is appreciated. Please click below to become an InDaily supporter.