Trial begins for Catholic archbishop accused of protecting pedophile priest

The Australian

November 28, 2017

By Sam Buckingham-Jones

The most senior Catholic cleric in the world to be charged with concealing the child-sex-abuse offences of another priest will face a two-week hearing starting today.

In what is seen as a test case for the potential prosecution of others accused of not disclosing such crimes, the Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Edward Wilson, faces up to two years in jail if convicted of “concealing a serious indictable offence”.

It is alleged the 67-year-old had information he knew or believed about Hunter Valley priest James Fletcher that he failed to pass on to investigating police between April 22, 2004, when Fletcher was charged with child sex offences, and July 7, 2006, when Fletcher died in jail. Prosecutors say Archbishop Wilson, a former president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, knew Fletcher had abused a 10-year-old boy in 1971 but failed to notify police. He has denied the allegation.

Since he was charged in March 2015, Archbishop Wilson has made three attempts to have the charge against him dismissed or permanently stayed. In February last year, a magistrate refused to quash the allegations. Then in the NSW Supreme Court, Archbishop Wilson’s lawyers argued the evidence gathered by police was capable of establishing only that he had received the allegations — there was no evidence the Archbishop believed them, meaning he did not have the legal responsibility to report them to police.

Judge Monika Schmidt rejected that argument, saying she was “satisfied that the inferences capable of being drawn from all of that evidence, if accepted, include that the archbishop held the alleged belief.”

NSW Court of Appeal judges John Basten, Tony Meagher, and Chief Justice Tom Bathurst dismissed Archbishop Wilson’s attempt to challenge Justice Schmidt’s decision in June.

“I agree with the primary judge’s conclusion that the predicate offence which it is alleged Father Fletcher had committed was at all relevant times between 2004 and 2006 a ‘serious indictable offence’ for the purposes of the Crimes Act,” Justice Meagher wrote.

Archbishop Wilson initially stood aside in March 2015 but resumed his role early last year as the legal battle continued. He will be represented by barrister Stephen Odgers SC and Adelaide firm Iles Selley, while the prosecution will be managed by the NSW Department of Public Prosecutions.

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