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Australian Archbishop Resigns Over Concealing Clergy Sex Abuse

Now-former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson is the most senior Roman Catholic clergyman in the world to be convicted of covering up clergy sex abuse.
Darren Pateman
Now-former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson is the most senior Roman Catholic clergyman in the world to be convicted of covering up clergy sex abuse.

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson about two months after he was convicted of failing to report child sex abuse by a priest in the 1970s.

The Australian clergyman had previously stepped aside from his role but did not formally resign, saying he was planning to appeal the conviction.

Now, amid rising calls for him to give up his position, he has changed his mind. In a statement released by the Archdiocese of Adelaide, Wilson said he hopes this will be a "catalyst to heal pain and distress."

"On July 20, I submitted to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, my resignation from the position of Archbishop of Adelaide," Wilson said in a letter to the members of the Archdiocese.

"I have now been informed that His Holiness has accepted my resignation," he wrote.

The 67-year-old "is the most senior Catholic cleric to be found guilty of concealing abuse," NPR's Scott Neuman reported. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on the pope to fire Wilson on July 19, according to The Associated Press — just one day before he apparently submitted his resignation.

"I welcome Philip Wilson's resignation as Archbishop of Adelaide today which belatedly recognises the many calls, including my own, for him to resign," Turnbull said Monday, according to Australia's ABC.

"There is no more important responsibility for community and church leaders than the protection of children."

Wilson said he had planned to wait for the appeal but that "there is just too much pain and distress being caused by my maintaining the office of Archbishop of Adelaide."

The incidents of abuse date back more than four decades.

"Two accusers, who were altar boys at the time, said they had told him in 1976 about sexual abuse on the part of Fr. James Fletcher," according to Vatican News. "The boys, then ages 10 and 11, said the archbishop did nothing with the information."

Fletcher, who was convicted in 2004 of child sexual abuse, died in prison in 2006 after suffering a stroke.

Earlier this month, Wilson was sentenced to 12 months in detention. According to Reuters, a court will decide on Aug. 11, "whether he will be imprisoned or allowed to serve his one-year sentence in home detention."

A government commission in Australia found last year that "7 percent of priests who worked in Australia between 1950 and 2009 had been accused of child sex abuse," as Neuman reported.

This is the second major resignation of a church official since Saturday, when the pope accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C.

In that case, Francis ordered him to observe "a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular trial." He also must "remain in a house yet to be indicated to him," according to Vatican News.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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