Monday, October 17, 2016

Adelaide’s Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson loses appeal to stop criminal proceedings against him

Image result for Archbishop Philip WilsonADELAIDE’S Catholic Archbishop has failed to stop criminal proceedings against him over claims he concealed a colleague’s sexual abuse of a young boy. 

Archbishop Philip Wilson is charged with concealing information about the 1971 sexual assault of a 10-year-old boy by paedophile priest James Fletcher in the NSW town of Maitland.
At the time, Archbishop Wilson was a young priest who lived with Fletcher, but he has denied any wrongdoing.

In the NSW Supreme Court on Friday, Justice Monika Schmidt dismissed his appeal against a decision rejecting his bid to permanently halt the case.

Archbishop Wilson returned to his post in January after he voluntarily stepped down from his role when charges were filed in March 2015.

The prosecution claims Archbishop Wilson knew or had information that might have helped to secure a prosecution of Fletcher — who died in prison in 2006 — between 2004 to 2006.

The archbishop, who has pleaded not guilty to the charge in the Newcastle Local Court, is the most senior Catholic official worldwide to be charged with such an offence.

In February, a magistrate refused to quash or permanently stay the proceedings. 

On Friday in the NSW Supreme Court, Justice Monika Schmidt dismissed the archbishop’s appeal against that decision.

She rejected claims including that the magistrate erred in finding the charge was a valid one.

Archbishop Wilson’s lawyers also argued the proceedings were “foredoomed to fail”.

They said the prosecution evidence was incapable of establishing the archbishop had the “requisite belief” that Fletcher had committed the 1971 offence.

“Mere suspicion” on his part was not sufficient to prove the charge, they said. The prosecution case includes allegations that a young parishioner told Wilson in 1976 about being abused by the priest when he was an altar boy five years earlier.

“The victim’s allegations were about repeated offending of the most serious kind, involving masturbation, oral and other sexual assault of a young child by a priest, contrary not only to law, but it may reasonably be inferred, contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church,” Justice Schmidt said.

“Consistent with the evidence that the archbishop reacted with shock to the information and assured the victim that such assault was not used for punishment, it may also be inferred that this was not a commonplace experience for the archbishop at that time, but an unusual one.”

The judge concluded that “at its highest” and, if accepted, all the available evidence was capable of establishing Archbishop Wilson held the alleged belief.

Archbishop Wilson’s counsel Bret Walker SC declined to comment on whether he is seeking avenues for further appeals.

A spokesperson for the Archbishop said he would consider closely the judgment but would not comment on whether he would be stepping down.

The matter will return to Newcastle Local Court in December.

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