Message from Bishop Bill Wright: Archbishop Wilson's criminal conviction and sentencing

Archbishop Phillip Wilson grew up in the Catholic community of Maitland-Newcastle Diocese and was a priest of the diocese from his ordination in 1975 until his appointment as Bishop of Wollongong in 1996.

It is a source of great grief and shock to the Catholic community here that he has been found guilty of concealing the appalling crimes of another priest, the convicted paedophile James Fletcher, now deceased.

Our grief is first of all for the two teenage boys who, the court found, reported abuse by Fletcher to the then 26-year-old Fr Wilson in 1976 and a year or two later.

Their trust was betrayed when no effective action was taken and they were deprived of the care they should have received at the time.

Fletcher went on to abuse other boys, and we grieve for the harm done to them as we realise the dreadful truth that this could have been prevented by timely action against Fletcher.

It is also the finding of the court that Wilson in 2004 failed to inform the police investigating Fletcher of the reports he had received in the 1970s even though, in the finding of the court, he would surely have remembered them. This is a highly disturbing reflection on the Archbishop.

These things are also a deep shock to those who, like me, have known Phillip Wilson for many years or who, having followed the proceedings of The Royal Commission, are aware of his vigorous actions against child abusers as a bishop.

In Wollongong he refused to accept the finding of a Roman tribunal that a suspected priest should be returned to duty, and his stance was later vindicated. In Adelaide he offered material assistance to the SA Police to extradite a lay church employee back from the United States.

It is a deep shock and disappointment that this man has been found guilty of covering up abuse.

As bishop of this diocese, I accept the judgement of the court in imposing this sentence. Child sexual abuse is an appalling crime for the lasting harm it inflicts on those abused, their families and ultimately our whole national community.

Archbishop Wilson is a long-time friend and colleague of mine, and almost like a member of my family. But in these matters all of us must rigorously set aside such considerations in the interests of justice and the protection of children.

Our diocese regularly provides assistance to survivors of abuse and their families through the Healing and Support team at Zimmerman Services (Phone: 02 4979 1390).

If you are experiencing difficulty coping with these matters around Archbishop Wilson, you are also invited to contact this team.

If you wish to report abuse, you should contact the police but Zimmerman Services are also available to assist and support you in that process.

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