There are calls for the resignation of a Roman Catholic archbishop who was found guilty by an Australian court of covering up child sexual abuse. Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson is the most senior Catholic figure to be convicted of this type of offence anywhere in the world.
Wilson was accused of covering up abuse by a pedophile priest in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales in the 1970s.
The Archbishop, who held a junior position in the church at the time, faces up to two years in prison. He will be sentenced in June.
Wilson’s lawyers said he had no knowledge of offences committed against altar boys by a fellow member of the clergy, who was later convicted of sexual abuse and died in prison in 2006.
But a magistrate in the port city of Newcastle, north of Sydney, said the evidence against Archbishop Wilson was “truthful and reliable.” Witnesses told the court how they had reported the abuse to Wilson, who failed to act.
Magistrate Robert Stone said the archbishop knew that back in 1976 he was hearing a credible allegation of molestation but did nothing to protect the children but wanted only to protect the Roman Catholic Church and its reputation.
Archbishop Wilson has stepped aside from his official duties but has not resigned his position.
Father Frank Brennan, the head if Catholic Social Services Australia, believes Pope Francis expects him to quit.
“The Pope's attitude has clearly hardened, as it should have," Brennan said. And so I would think that the mind of Pope Francis at this stage would be, that if there be a conviction of a bishop in relation of a failure to disclose abuse in circumstances where the state thought that was criminal activity, then I would think the mind of the Pope would be that that does not measure up in church terms either and that therefore it would be impossible for someone to remain in the job as a bishop, as a leader of the flock.”
Child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church was part of the focus of a five-year Royal Commission into Australian institutions. The inquiry found that criminality by pedophile priests was widespread.
The church has come under criticism worldwide for failing to report or discipline priests accused of child abuse. Earlier this month all 34 bishops of Chile's episcopal conference, in Rome for a crisis meeting with Pope Francis on the clerical sex abuse scandal in their country, offered to resign en masse.
Catholicism is Australia’s dominant faith. About a quarter of Australians identify as Catholics, although that proportion is gradually falling.