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Archbishop Philip Wilson to step aside but won't resign - for now

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Archbishop Philip Wilson, convicted yesterday of concealing child sex abuse, will stand aside as the head of the Adelaide Archdiocese but has stopped short of resigning.

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In a statement today, Wilson said he would “stand aside from my duties as Archbishop” and that he would resign “if at any point in time it becomes necessary or appropriate”.

In the Newcastle Local Court yesterday, Magistrate Robert Stone found Wilson had concealed the abuse of two altar boys in the NSW Hunter region by pedophile priest James Fletcher by failing to report the allegations to police.

Wilson, 67, who now faces a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment, is the most senior Catholic official in the world to be charged and convicted of such an offence.

In his statement this morning, Wilson said he had been considering Stone’s reasons for his judgement overnight.

“I am still considering those reasons together with my legal advisors,” he said. “While I do so, it is appropriate that, in the light of some of his Honour’s findings, I stand aside from my duties as Archbishop.”

He said he would step aside on Friday, once he had put in place the necessary administrative arrangements to ensure the affairs of the Archdiocese were managed responsibly.

“If at any point in time it becomes necessary or appropriate for me take more formal steps, including resigning as Archbishop, then I will do so.

“In the meantime, while the remainder of the legal process runs its course, I want to assure the Catholic faithful in the Archdiocese of my continued prayers and best wishes and assure everyone that the affairs of the Archdiocese will be appropriately managed in my absence.”

Peter Creigh, a former altar boy who expected Wilson – an assistant priest at the time – to take action after he told him Fletcher repeatedly abused him when he was 10 in 1971, was a key witness in the landmark trial of Wilson.

Creigh, close to tears after the verdict, said it was a “huge relief” and labelled it a “significant day for victims and their families”.

Stone accepted Creigh and another altar boy told Wilson in 1976 that Fletcher had repeatedly abused them but the clergyman did nothing.

Fletcher was found guilty in December 2004 of nine counts of child sexual abuse. He died in jail of a stroke in January 2006.

The magistrate rejected claims by Wilson, who is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, that he could not remember the altar boys telling him of the abuse in 1976.

Prosecutor Gareth Harrison told the court Wilson should be jailed to deter others from trying to protect the Catholic Church from abuse allegations.

Sentencing is due to start on June 19.

– with AAP

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