Adelaide, Australia, Mar 18, 2015 / 12:01 pm
An Australian bishop is strongly denying accusations that he concealed a serious sexual abuse offense allegedly disclosed to him in the 1970s.
Last year, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide was notified by police that he had been accused of ignoring a sexual abuse case in 1976.
"The suggestion appears to be that I failed to bring to the attention of police a conversation I am alleged to have had in 1976 ... that a now deceased priest had abused a child," the archbishop said March 17.
"From the time this was first brought to my attention last year, I have completely denied the allegation."
Archbishop Wilson is being charged with failing to report the claim and allegedly concealing the supposed sexual abuse case in the Hunter Region of New South Wales. At the time of the alleged conversation, he had been ordained a priest only one year.
The abusive priest was Fr. Jim Fletcher, with whom Archbishop Wilson was then a priest of the Maitland diocese.
In 2006 Fr. Fletcher was convicted over sex abuse charges after one of his victims approached a detective. He was jailed, and died within the year.
Archbishop Wilson was charged by the Strike Force Lantle of the New South Wales Police department, who are taking him to court over the matter.
"I am disappointed to have been notified by the NSW Police that it has been decided to file a charge in respect of this matter," Archbishop Wilson said.
Devastated by the accusation, Archbishop Wilson upholds his innocence, stating that he intends to defend his honor in court. Senior Counsel Ian Temby AO is legally representing the archbishop.
The president of the bishop's conference, Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, stated he hopes the matter will be resolved without delay, noting that the presumption of innocence applies to Archbishop Wilson, just as it does to all citizens subject to criminal charges.
"I urge people not to make any judgement until the charge against Archbishop Wilson has been dealt with by the court," Archbishop Hart stated.
The archbishop is due to appear in Newcastle Local Court April 30. He faces up to two years in jail.
Archbishop Wilson said that "I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to dealing proactively with the issue of child sexual abuse and the implementation of best-practice child protection measures which I have pioneered since becoming a bishop," adding that "my efforts in this regard have been widely acknowledged."
He is taking a leave of absence to consult with various people on the matter.
"I would again like to express my deep sorrow for the devastating impact of clerical sex abuse on victims and their families, and I give assurance that despite this charge, I will continue to do what I can to protect the children in our care in the Archdiocese of Adelaide."