Catholic Archbishop beats abuse cover-up charge

“Audible gasp” as Judge gives his verdict

Adelaide’s former Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson is a free man after his criminal conviction of covering up child sex abuse has been overturned on appeal in Newcastle this afternoon.

Judge Roy Ellis considered if prosecutors proved beyond reasonable doubt that Wilson, 68, failed to disclose allegations about priest Jim Fletcher between 2004 and 2006.

More than 40 survivors and their supporters were in Judge Ellis’s court.

Fletcher died in jail in 2006, having been convicted of sexually abusing Peter Creigh in the 1970s when he was an altar boy.

Mr Creigh claimed to have told Wilson in 1976 about Fletcher’s abuse, when Wilson was an assistant parish priest in East Maitland, New South Wales.

On July 3, Wilson became the most senior Catholic figure in the world to be convicted of failing to report child sex crimes to police. That hearing focused upon whether the 1976 conversation between Mr Creigh and Archbishop Wilson took place and if he remembered the allegation and believed it was true between 2004 and 2006.

Newcastle Local Court Magistrate Robert Stone found the cleric was told of the abuse and formed a belief the allegations were true. Wilson was found guilty of failing to report allegations about Fletcher to police. He received a 12-month custodial sentence which, on August 14, was allowed to be served under house arrest.

Following his conviction, Wilson stepped aside from his duties as Archbishop. Pope Francis accepted his resignation as archbishop on 30 July.

But in Judge Ellis’s findings, he said it could not be proved that the 1976 conversation took place, and it couldn’t be proved that Wilson believed it.

More than 40 survivors and their supporters were in Judge Ellis’s court. They had a strong reaction with some comments yelled out disparaging the judge, while others shed tears.

According to ABC, some of Judge Ellis’s remarks were met with “an audible gasp in the court gallery, with abuse survivors and their families saying the comments were a joke, a disgrace and insensitive.

In response to today’s ruling, Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide released a statement, indicating “we now need to consider the ramifications of this outcome.”

“The survivors of child sexual abuse and their families are in our thoughts and prayers, and the Archdiocese remains committed to providing the safest possible environments for children and vulnerable people in our care.”

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