The former Archbishop of Adelaide, Phillip Wilson, who was convicted but later acquitted on charges of covering up child sex abuse in NSW, has died aged 70.
He had suffered a series of health issues in recent years, including cancer, but his death was unexpected, the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide said on Sunday.
“We know that Philip was much loved by people across the country, but especially in the places he served – in Maitland-Newcastle, in Wollongong and here in Adelaide,” the serving Archbishop of Adelaide Patrick O’Regan said.
“He made major contributions to the church and the wider communities in which he ministered.”
Mr Wilson was in 2018 convicted of covering up the crimes of pedophile priest James Fletcher, who was found guilty of sexual abuse committed in the NSW Hunter region in the 1970s.
At Mr Wilson’s trial, prosecutors argued that two altar boys had in 1976 told Mr Wilson that they’d been abused by Fletcher but he had done nothing.
Mr Wilson was sentenced to a year of home detention but he appealed the case and won.
A District Court judge quashed the conviction, saying there was a reasonable doubt whether Mr Wilson remembered being told about the abuse or believed the victim had been preyed upon by Fletcher.
When Mr Wilson’s conviction was quashed, abuse survivor Peter Gogarty, a victim of Fletcher, said he couldn’t believe the judge’s decision.
“I didn’t sleep much last night,” he told Nine Network.
“I think the real concern out of this is that after spending billions of dollars on a royal commission … and all of the horrendous stories that we heard out of that, we’re back at a point where nobody in any of these institutions – and particularly in the Catholic Church – has been brought to account.”
After Mr Wilson’s death, Archbishop O’Regan said his predecessor was acquitted of all charges and had been part of the solution, not the problem.
“A harrowing period of allegations, charges, conviction and eventually acquittal was a significant chapter on Philip’s life, but his record of supporting and advocating on behalf of victims and survivors is part of his legacy,” Archbishop O’Regan said.
“Philip knew what pain many people had endured and suffered as a result of the sickening actions of some within the church.
“He was part of the solution, and widely recognised as such.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
Anyone seeking information or support relating to sexual abuse can also contact Bravehearts on 1800 272 831 or Blue Knot on 1300 657 380.