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Senior Catholics defend Wilson's child protection work

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The bishop in charge of the Archdiocese of Adelaide says while there has been sadness and anger among the Catholic community following the conviction and subsequent resignation of former Archbishop Philip Wilson, people must remember his contribution to improving child protection systems.

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Port Pirie Bishop Greg O’Kelly, who was appointed by Pope Francis as Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Adelaide in June this year, told reporters this morning that Wilson will “return to the ranks” as a bishop in the church.

O’Kelly said Wilson would have “no authority or no governance” in the church, but he would hold the title of bishop.

He said it was yet to be determined if Wilson’s new role would include pastoral care.

“All that is yet to be worked out: this is new territory, coming to terms with what this might mean for him personally,” O’Kelly said.

“He has a conviction and he has a sentence and he has this appeal, so there are too many things to be resolved there before we look at that.”

Wilson sent a letter to Pope Francis on July 20 tendering his resignation as Archbishop of Adelaide after he was convicted in May this year of not disclosing child sexual abuse to police.

He is he the most senior Catholic cleric to be convicted of the charge.

Wilson formally announced his resignation last night, citing a “growing level of hurt” that his conviction had caused within the community.

O’Kelly said today that the Pope only received Wilson’s resignation letter 10 days ago, and played down suggestions by reporters that a delay in responding to the resignation letter could have added to people’s distrust in the church.

“He (the Pope) only got the letter 10 days ago. It’s a 2000-year-old institution, it doesn’t move that quickly,” O’Kelly said.

“I don’t want to be facetious but that is a decision coming out in 10 days and the implication of it – an Archbishop stepping down – is fairly significant.

“I would have thought that 10 days was not a long time (given) it would have gone through the Vatican Diplomatic Mail.”

O’Kelly said he was informed of Wilson’s decision to resign last night.

He said he had spoken to Wilson since his resignation, but declined to comment on whether he had advised Wilson on his decision to resign.

He said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s call to have Wilson resign did not sway the former Archbishop’s decision.

“He is praying that this is the right decision for other people, that there will be healing, that the people who have been alienated might be returned.

“His emphasis was that this was an action in order to bring about better outcomes for people who have been hurt.”

O’Kelly said people “must not forget the great good” that Wilson had done in his role to improve child protection.

“The Archdiocese was the first to have a child protection unit, a child protection council, a police check unit,” he said.

“I don’t think we can betray the goodness the man has done. We must not lose sight of that if we’re interested in the truth, to see the whole picture.”

Archdiocesan Council for Child Protection chair Pauline Connelly, who was also at this morning’s press conference, said child protection awareness was something the Archdiocese continued to become informed about.

“I think it’s been something that has been going on for a number of years – the awareness of the atrocity of child abuse – so the Archdiocese did instigate a child protection council under Archbishop Philip Wilson about 12 years ago and out of that, we developed a child protection unit staffed by social workers.

“Obviously I can’t speak for the Archbishop or his personal discernment. At the moment it is what it is and what I’m concerned about really is with the everyday person and their experience with that.”

O’Kelly confirmed Wilson would continue with his appeal, adding the former Archbishop had a “due right to the legal process”.

He said he wasn’t concerned about the reputational impact of Wilson’s conviction on the Adelaide Archdiocese.

“It’s really what has brought to light about the need to have even more concern for victims, to be even more resolute, to do what we can to make the church and its ministries the safest place for vulnerable people.”

O’Kelly said the Archdiocese would now start the process of inquiry to find Wilson’s replacement.

“It will be operated by the papal nuncio, decisions and opinions will be asked amongst laypeople, amongst clergy, names will be sought. It does take a while,” he said.

O’Kelly said he had no interest in taking over as Archbishop.

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