Wilson, the most senior Catholic official in the world to be charged with concealing child sex assault, was scheduled to appear in Newcastle Local Court yesterday but was a no-show amid fears about his health and that he might not be fit to stand trial.
The 67-year-old was to appear over allegations he concealed information about a potential sexual assault of a 10-year-old boy in 1971 by the now-dead pedophile priest James Fletcher in the NSW Hunter region.
But Adelaide neurologist Associate Professor Andrew Lee told the court he believes Wilson is suffering from Alzheimer’s and is having cognitive difficulties.
Wilson has posted a letter on the website of the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide, in which he says the diagnosis came after a “nasty fall” in October.
“I was unconscious for a small amount of time and I lost a lot of blood,” he said. “The blood thinner medication I take contributed to the significant blood loss.
“In the weeks following this event, some of my colleagues noticed that I was not myself and advised me to have a number of medical tests.
“As a result of those tests, it was determined that I needed a pacemaker attached to my heart, and the neurological tests have diagnosed that I have Alzheimer’s disease.”
He said “all this has been occurring while I have been preparing for the trial”.
“I have informed the Court about my recent diagnoses which I hope will not prevent the process from at least starting. However, I am advised that it is now solely a matter for the Court to determine what will need to happen from this point.”
He said that while the Alzheimer’s diagnosis will alarm many people, there was no cause for “panic” and he hoped to continue to live a productive life.
He would continue as Archbishop until his retirement, unless he received medical advice that his condition was affecting his capacity to carry out his role.
“I have been prescribed medication that may assist me greatly in slowing the progress of this disease and indeed improve my present condition and I will, of course, see my neurologist regularly for testing and medical support,” hes aid.
“However, if a point comes in the next 8 years before my mandatory retirement as Archbishop of Adelaide, at 75 years of age, 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 to the Holy Father.”
In court yesterday, Lee, giving evidence over the phone, said the archbishop came to see him in his Adelaide office for the first time on November 17, less than a fortnight before his two-week hearing was scheduled to begin.
Wilson, who had been referred to Lee by his legal team, told the neurologist he’d suffered a fall and hit his head on October 11.
Lee said Wilson claimed he had lost consciousness after the fall and woke to find he was bleeding from the head.
Wilson said he went to hospital for several hours but no brain scans were conducted before he was discharged.
Lee said Wilson complained of being light headed for several days after the fall and had difficulty walking on uneven ground.
Questioned by crown prosecutor Gareth Harrison, Lee said he spoke with the archbishop for about 20 minutes during the November 17 consultation and carried out a number of tests which raised serious concerns about his cognitive ability.
Lee said Wilson claimed not to know what 10 past 11 looked like on a clock and couldn’t think of 11 words containing the letter F in less than a minute.
Asked by the prosecutor if Wilson could have been malingering during these tests, Lee agreed it was possible, which was why he believed the archbishop needed to be assessed further by a neuro-psychologist to determine if he was fit to stand trial.
Lee said in his opinion Wilson was a genuine person and wasn’t trying to put something over him during the tests.
Harrison then played a video featuring Wilson which was uploaded to YouTube on October 31 in which the archbishop discusses the future of the Catholic Church.
The prosecutor claimed it showed the archbishop was lucid and coherent.
Lee agreed but said Wilson, who had a pacemaker fitted on November 22, stumbled over his words on a number of occasions which was uncharacteristic.
Lee told the court he believed if Wilson was given the appropriate medication to improve his cognitive capacity there was a one in three chance he could return to normal in about three to six months.
Magistrate Caleb Franklin said the question of Wilson’s fitness to stand trial needed to be addressed.
He adjourned the case until Friday when it will be decided if the case proceeds next week.
The NSW Court of Appeal in June dismissed Wilson’s third attempt to have the proceedings against him quashed or permanently stayed.
– with AAP
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