Archbishop Wilson: Fair cop or foul?

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Archbishop Philip Wilson has gone from church leader with a reputation for dealing professionally with sex abuse cases to being stoned by all and sundry in the national village square. The calls to resign come not only from victims, anti-church crusaders and commentators of every ilk, but also eminent Catholics who fear he may cause more damage by staying on.

Archbishop Philip WilsonI do not wish to debate the rights or wrongs of resignation but simply reflect on whether the pursuit of Wilson could in any sense be described as a witch-hunt and whether he might be seen as a scapegoat for the sins of many.

First, I do not know Wilson and have interviewed him just once. I am not a Catholic or a church-goer. I abhor sexual abuse and its concealment. I do know a bit about churches (one brother is an Anglican bishop, the other a dean, in England). As a journalist I have covered legal cases and watched expert lawyers in action in all courts. I have witnessed merciless interrogations of murderers and conmen, of premiers (Brian Burke and Carmen Lawrence) and businessmen (Alan Bond).

Alarm bells about the Wilson story rang for me eight years ago. In May 2010, the ABC broadcast a report nationally which claimed that abusive priest James Fletcher had regularly taken a 12-year-old boy up to his room at the Bishop's House in Maitland, New South Wales, in the 1970s. The report suggested that as Wilson lived in the same house he must have seen the boy going upstairs.

I was an ABC journalist based in Adelaide and was intrigued partly because the protagonist's story was so shocking and also because the report contained only brief responses on the Archbishop's behalf and he appeared nowhere on camera.

Having previously worked on detailed church investigations (including into an Anglican archbishop) I knew it was important to get an on-camera response to such a serious accusation. I was aware The Australian was also asking for an interview.

To my surprise I was told by the Archbishop's local media manager that the ABC had sent a series of questions to Wilson but only on the morning of the broadcast and it had been impossible at such short notice to answer in detail questions about the 1970s. They felt it had been an 'ambush' by the ABC, told me an interview was unlikely, but the request would be passed on.

 

"I took away from these exchanges that minds were made up about Wilson. I concluded, rightly or wrongly, that he was a target and that the prevailing view was: 'He must have known.'"

 

I then breached normal ABC protocol on someone else's story and did a bit of checking myself. A look online revealed the complainant was born in 1960 and so would have been 12 in 1972. Wilson was born in 1950 and ordained in 1975. So when it was suggested the 12-year-old could have been seen climbing to Fletcher's bedroom, Wilson was still three years from becoming a priest.

This was a serious mistake in a story the ABC's then managing director had said earlier had taken months to research. (The story was later corrected online.)

I was disturbed that the report had gone to air with such basic errors and that Wilson had been sent questions only on the morning of the broadcast. The complainant's number was online so after work I rang him and we had a friendly conversation. He told me he had never claimed he'd been 12 at the time he'd seen Wilson at the house.

My decision not to talk immediately to Sydney and to contact the complainant was to cause me grief later in the week when out of the blue the Archbishop's media manager told me I could interview Wilson (he was also going to talk to The Australian). I grabbed a camera and headed for the Archbishop's House. He was polite and gracious and said I could ask him anything. His manner was quiet and thoughtful. I have kept a transcript of the interview.

He told me he had never seen the complainant going upstairs, had not moved to the house full-time until the 1980s, and could only recall meeting the complainant as a much older teenager. If he had seen any abuse it would have been his duty to report to his bishop. In those days he did not know paedophilia existed, and now knew such behaviour was done in great secrecy.

When I asked him whether it should be mandatory to report suspicions to police, he said the law was now much clearer and that if there was any suspicion of criminal activity it should be reported to police. He would not break the seal of the confessional but would urge someone confessing about abuse to go to the police themselves. He was very concerned about the allegations made against him but also understood the tremendous hurt in the lives of people who had been abused. He had been strongly committed to dealing with such matters properly, and had nothing to hide.

I was pleased with the interview but the ABC in Sydney was not. I was told by editorial management (which has since changed) that we would have to hold off putting the interview to air until it could be done again 'properly, with proper questions' sent from Sydney. The Archbishop should not be allowed to get away with 'wishy-washy' answers.

I was told I had no right to contact the complainant and was angrily questioned on just how much research I had done on someone else's story. It might have been a little galling to hear that I googled the correct dates in all of 20 minutes.

When I ventured that The Australian was also talking to Wilson, it was decided my interview would be put to air, but only in South Australia and only after another interview with the complainant had been done so that he could be given another 'right of reply' to what Wilson had told me. This, I was told, was because we could not imply — from Wilson's responses — that the complainant was not telling the truth.

The most surprising questions to me from Sydney were: 'What is your relationship with the Archbishop? How well do you know him? Is he a friend of yours?' I took away from these exchanges that minds were made up about Wilson. I concluded, rightly or wrongly, that he was a target and that the prevailing view was: 'He must have known.'

The fact that the interview was shown in SA meant that the rest of Australia did not get the opportunity to see Wilson speaking at length. After it went to air, and the controversy that followed, another complainant wrote to the then Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle Michael Malone, in July 2010, to say he had told Wilson back in 1976 that he too had been abused by Fletcher, five years earlier in 1971. Interestingly Bishop Malone, now retired, visited this complainant to discuss counselling, but neither informed the police.

This complainant was the key witness in Wilson's recent trial. His letter only came to light during the 2013 NSW inquiry into how the police had handled church abuse investigations, and its discovery prompted the case against Wilson. It was 2015 before police laid the charge. At the time Wilson said: '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, when I was a junior priest, that a now deceased priest had abused a child.'

 

"For a long time Wilson maintained his right to silence and declined to be interviewed by police. Given the above, it would not be a stretch to guess that one reason might be that from 2010 he believed he was a target."

 

Chris Geraghty, a former priest who became a NSW District Court judge, commented on the ABC's Religion Report:

'What you have to remember about this is that Philip Wilson was born in 1950, he was ordained in 1975. He'd spent eight years in the seminary, walking around talking theology and living in an Alice-in-Wonderland kind of land. He lands as a junior priest, just a little above an altar boy, in Maitland, and somebody comes along and discloses this to him — if it happened — and what's he going to do? He's at the bottom of the pecking order, there's a bishop in charge, there's senior priests, the priest that's actually being complained about is senior to him and he's a kind of high-profile kind of priest, so this is the situation in 1976.'

Geraghty said when someone disclosed abuse to him in the early 1970s all he was thinking about was mortal sin and confession. He had no idea of it being a crime or of going to the police. He also said that Wilson later inherited some fairly bad abuse situations as Bishop of Wollongong, which he dealt with very well.

Incidentally, the charge Wilson faced was not about concealing a conversation in 1976, but that he had not told police about it 28 years later in 2004 when Fletcher was successfully charged with offences against other victims.

For a long time Wilson maintained his right to silence and declined to be interviewed by police. Given the above, it would not be a stretch to guess that one reason might be that from 2010 he believed he was a target.

At his trial the prosecution had to overcome major hurdles to convince the local magistrate to accept its case. It had to prove Wilson knew he had been told about Fletcher in 1976 and that he still knew the information from 2004-2006 when it could have been useful to police. I still find it hard to understand how anyone could determine with certainty what was in another person's mind 42 years ago (in 1976) or even 14 years ago (in 2004).

Again, the prosecution's argument was that because the key witness (among others) was telling the truth, then Wilson had to be lying. I still cannot see how both might not be true — that the witness was telling the truth, to the best of his memory, and that Wilson could also have been telling the truth in having no recollection of the conversation. At the least, I find it hard to understand why there appears to have been no room for doubt.

Finally, one must ask, why would Wilson go to such lengths to try to have the case thrown out? For some the answer is simple: yet again, it's all about protecting his and his church's reputation. But Wilson would surely know that, in today's climate, a drawn-out and expensive court case would win him and his church no fans. Another possible reason presents itself: that he believes he has told the truth and is unwilling to give in to what he perceives to be a witch-hunt.

 

Alan AtkinsonAlan Atkinson has been freelance writing and editing full-time since leaving the ABC in 2015 after ten years as chief of staff, producer and day editor of the Adelaide newsroom.

 

 

 

Letter to the editor from Suzanne Smith

I refer to the article by Alan Atkinson published 12 July posing the question 'whether the pursuit of Wilson could in any sense be described as a witch-hunt', and making the suggestion that despite the court's judgment against him Wilson 'believes he has told the truth and is unwilling to give in to what he perceives to be a witch-hunt'. 

In May 2018 Archbishop Wilson was convicted of concealing a serious indictable offence relating to the sexual abuse of a teenage boy by a priest in his diocese. Wilson is the highest ranking Catholic cleric to be convicted of such an offence. The Church's response to this episode should be of particular interest.

Wilson was convicted of concealing knowledge of the egregious crimes of Father James Fletcher, who sexually assaulted five teenage boys and died in jail. It was 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. 

The editor of Eureka Street confirmed on 16 July that neither he nor Alan Atkinson had read the judgment against Wilson before the article was published. Atkinson's article is not labelled as 'opinion'.

The media played an important role in giving voice to victims of abuse by clergy. That reportage led to questions about the responsibility of Church hierarchy to act on information of abuse. The media did not conduct a "witch-hunt”.  

READ FULL RESPONSE FROM ABC JOURNALIST SUZANNE SMITH

 

Letter to the editor from Peter Gogarty

I am a survivor of sexual abuse by Fr Fletcher. It was me who first made a complaint to NSW police that Wilson knew what Fletcher had been up to. It was me who wrote an opinion piece for Fairfax asking what Wilson knew and when. It was me who appeared on ABC TV naming the Archbishop. By extension, it must be me who initiated the witch-hunt and stirred up public hysteria.

Credit where it is due to Mr Atkinson who notes that he deplores the sexual abuse of children and the concealment of that abuse. However, as a journalist writing in a Jesuit publication, I am not sure it is reasonable for him to suggest that Wilson has been 'stoned by all and sundry in the national village square'.

No one I know — victim, supporter or reporter — has ever sought anything other than accountability from people in the Catholic Church (including Wilson) who until relatively recently were insisting that the Church knew nothing about the child abusers in their ranks — a now thoroughly discredited claim.

It is also, I suggest, unrealistic for Mr Atkinson to think the media won't report on such a high profile case, or ignore public demands for the Archbishop's resignation or dismissal.

Here are a few irrefutable facts ...

READ FULL RESPONSE FROM ADVOCATE AND SURVIVOR OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE PETER GOGARTY

 

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Topic tags: Alan Atkinson, clergy sexual abuse, Philip Wilson, ABC

 

 

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Existing comments

I never imagined the day would dawn when I felt such gratitude to a non-Catholic who has had the courage to dispassionately and logically defend a Catholic archbishop when so many of the archbishop's Catholic people, both clergy and laity, have passionately and illogically abandoned him.
john frawley | 13 July 2018


Both its author and Eureka Street are to be commended for the publication of this article.
John | 13 July 2018


A very well written article giving pause for thought, especially should be to “the all and sundry doing the stoning in the village square” - this reminds me of the chap before the baying crowd 2000 years ago in front of Pontius Pilate. Sadly even if an appeal were successful the archbishop’s damaged reputation is regrettably irretrievable to the mob but real justice should have his slate cleared and consideration given of all his good works especially in the field of child protection.
Stan O'Loughlin | 13 July 2018


Well done Alan. It takes a strong commitment to fearless fairness to demand balance and accuracy in reporting the church and child sexual abuse.
Anna Forrest | 13 July 2018


Thank you for such an unbiased and logical article This case has always seemed like the witch hunt of a 68 year old man who has lived a life to help others. The 40 year old accusation, the retrospective rule of law. The reporting and the understanding of abuse back then was very different to what it is today. Archbishop Wilson has demonstrated he is a very strong advocate for Child Protection for many, many years. History is repeating itself, as many have abandoned him as he carries his cross. While the sensationalised media reports lead the sheep.
Sandie Griffin | 13 July 2018


I'd also like to offer my congratulations and heartfelt thanks, both to Mr Atkinson and to Eureka Street, for this balanced, sensible and well-researched article. I hope that in one way and another this article will be widely read, not just by the readers of Eureka Street.
Cathy Taggart | 13 July 2018


The words from the article which rang bells for me which harmonised with my life experience were "In those days he did not know paedophilia existed, and now knew such behaviour was done in great secrecy." I am 15 years older than Bishop Wilson and spent seven years in the 60s in the maitland Diocese, so about the same age he was when he went there in the 70s. I did not know what a paedolphe was and only learned the word "lesbian" while in that diocese and that waas in the context of Cardinal Suenan's book.'The Nun in the Modern World" I believe that this was not the best case for a prosecution of this type. There were, unfortunately, many offenders about whom prosecutions were on much stronger ground. Thank you to Alan Atkinson for submitting this article. It is a very sad situation.
Joan Winter OP | 14 July 2018


I suspect a similar article could be written about Cardinal George Pell. There will come a day when a brave person will untangle the genuine failings of Cardinal Pell from the 'score settling' and 'someone needs to pay the price' motivations.
Cathy R | 14 July 2018


I don’t have a strong opinion abt his guilt or innocence, but the notion that any adult in 1976 was unaware that paedophilia existed beggars belief. I was a child at that time: the term “paedophilia” wasn’t used, they were “dirty old men”. We kids were frequently warned abt them...in our schools, our homes and our streets. We knew it happened, we knew it was wrong, and we knew it was a crime.
Sophie Kennedy | 14 July 2018


Thanks for this wonderful article. I felt so sorry for the Archbishop who has done such great work for his people in the Church.
Breda O’ | 15 July 2018


That is a good analysis Alan and the witch hunt a valid reason for Archbishop Wilson to appeal his conviction. No one has accused him of abuse. He is accused of concealment of a crime. Later acquired knowledge can now make one complicit. In the US one can invoke the 5th to avoid self incrimination. In Australia so far you have the right to silence. However (the seal of the confessional aside) at least in NSW, you no longer have the right to silence if you know someone has committed a serious indictable offence. Its an interesting quandary. The social question is whether the conservative brotherhood culture of the church is a stronger internal bond than the later imposed legal obligation. Consider this: if the offender had confessed his abuse to the Archbishop, prior to the change in the law, the church's own rules would bind him to silence. Hearsay from an alleged victim would still be hearsay till the charge had been proven against the perpetrator. Third party statements can be unreliable. And Mr Fletcher was already up on charges. Do the NSW police seriously expect the clergy to do their jobs for them?
Frank Armstrong | 15 July 2018


A general comment, not specific to Wilson. The words "In those days he did not know paedophilia existed, and now knew such behaviour was done in great secrecy." also jumped out at me, but in a quite different way to Joan Winter. This is an excuse used so often but is totally irrelevant. Sexual assault of minors has been known to exist for as long as I can remember. Why else have an "age of consent" in regard to sexual matters? It doesn't matter that the word paedophilia was unknown, nor that it wasn't known as an ongoing issue with perpetrators. Surely the report of one sexual assault should be acted upon, no such thing as waiting to see if there would be any more.
MargaretC | 15 July 2018


Truth is said to be the first victim of war. It seems that there is a war going on here, side by side with the real movement of revulsion from the abuse that the Church,s structures have allowed and enabled. How ironic it is that both Pell and Wilson, who have done so much counter child-abuse in the Church, have become the chosen scapegoats. Not helpful for the cause of truth, justice and right, if that's what the ABC claims to be about.
Joan Seymour | 15 July 2018


Thank you very much for sharing the article.
Daisy | 15 July 2018


At last a sane and critical account of what has happened to Archbishop Wilson has been published. Thank you Alan Atkinson and thank you Eureka Street. The targeting of the Archbishop has been known to me for some time. It is of a piece with the targeting of Cardinal Pell. I wish them both well.
Father John Fleming | 16 July 2018


What are the chances of a balanced four corners story on the Atkinson perspective of the Wilson case?
Michael | 16 July 2018


Congratulations and heartfelt thanks to Alan Atkinson and to Eureka Street, for this balanced, sensible and well-researched article. Oh that it would be widely published in the mainstream media. But like the accusations against Bishop Max Davis and his exoneration, the media hounds lose interest. A sad reflection on the motives of the journalists.
Mick Hammond | 16 July 2018


Thank you for that rare article these days on the Church, one that looks fairly and realistically at the issue of sexual abuse in the church. Yes Archbishop is being hung out to dry by the militant secularists media, with the legal system giving full support. It is sad that his support for just approaches to victims have been buried in the gleeful baying for his blood.
Rosemary Sheehan | 16 July 2018


There are many relevant things here pointing to the Archbishop's probable innocence. Wilson is not the first Catholic clergy to suffer from the current noxious climate through unwavering denials and ignored evidence, but hovering above all else is the time element and the relative naivety of those years. Wilson hadn't ever heard of paedophilia - whaaaaat, couldn't be, could it? - but, neither had I, nor any of my acquaintances heard of the reprehensible blight we've since seen in blazing headlines as "paedophilia." Yes, we knew about "stranger danger" but it was always male on female. Apart from which, I'll challenge anybody, good or failing memory, to recall exact details from 42 years ago. It's becoming increasingly evident the ABC (and others) are hunting down Christianity, particularly Catholicism. This is a brave and timely article, but will it penetrate the prevailing mind-sealed prejudices?
Rose | 16 July 2018


Alan Atkinson's article is a calm and reasoned reflection on Archbishop Wilson's sad situation amidst the feeding frenzy of media coverage. There is, however, an elephant in the room. I suspect this elephant is behind much of his “being stoned” and especially by “eminent Catholics”. Mr Atkinson may not have noticed the elephant, but many Catholics –ordinary and eminent - have. The elephant is the Archbishop’s episcopal style. The Archbishop led the Adelaide Church away from the collaborative, open, humble model of his predecessors. The model praised at the Royal Commission into Child Abuse. From his first days as Archbishop in Adelaide, he began to shift the diocese to his own model of Church and leadership: authoritarian, bishop-centred and at times very harsh. Relationships with many of the key people in the local Church began to deteriorate from that time. They saw the Archdiocese as being damaged and losing its character. At least in part, recent calls for his resignation from within the Church are that elephant stamping its feet and trumpeting its presence.
apjp2007 | 16 July 2018


Well written, Alan. Knowing people who personally know Wilson, but also knowing the people involved who have been affected by the inertia of clergy (including Wilson allegedly) when abuse is exposed, makes this a very difficult topic for me personally but even more so as a researcher. I know all too well how easily humans can be drawn into group think. There is so much unresolved pain and anger ... so much ... and these just have to be acknowledged by the Church, but also, kept in check by the victims/survivors. One lesson above others is clear here: the only way we 'know' anything (as the general public) is from what we read and hear, and, my God, sometimes that can be so wrong. Yes, evidence is needed ... but what is evidence now, I'm not sure. But I also so know how deeply inadequate the Church can be and also how deeply evasive and even brutal when trying to maintain its cloak of moral decency - and it’s a thin cloak when it comes to clergy sexual activity especially in the past decades - that's the trouble. But I fear your final line may be true, EXCEPT for the victims. I/we need to hear their side more clearly. They are the ones who get abused because of the inaction of those who knew, and actually that can be so many of us.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 16 July 2018


Thank you Alan for a very honest argument that illustrates well the injustices that can feed our media, even the ABC. I am a supporter of the ABC and am only too aware of the threat to it under the current government. Reading this article gives pause to my enthusiasm for the ABC. It seems the ABC also needs to look carefully at its coverage of news and the ethics involved. That said though I would not like to see the clericalism that has been raised as an issue in this whole sorry saga forgotten. That the Pope is the only one who can sack a bishop seems to well illustrate this problem. Clericalism still needs to go and the leadership needs to be in the hands of all the Church and these problems might in time go.
Tom Kingston | 16 July 2018


Alan Atkinson's excellent article not only presents an alternative perspective on Archbishop Wilson's defence, but it also presents a sad picture of ABC at the time. That a journalist could be criticised by his managers for doing his own research in an area already covered by a colleague speaks of an organisation more committed to its policies and procedures than to discovery and presentation of what really happened. Happily Atkinson reports that editorial management in Sydney has since changed. Hopefully the current management are above such pettiness.
Ian Fraser | 16 July 2018


Thank you Alan. I am a practising Catholic. I am disgusted at the sexual abuse of children in our Church. Perpetrators and those who cover up sexual abuse must face justice. However, I realise that the historical social/religious context of the time has not been understood by many who are passing judgement on Philip Wilson who was a very young naive priest at the time and would have thought such acts of sexual abuse to be utterly unbelievable of a 'popular' and 'charismatic' priest such as Fletcher. As a young religious myself in the 1970's I hadn't a clue as to what was going on around me with regard to the other sisters as monastery/convent life discouraged interpersonal relationships and knowing what was going on in each other's personal life. Custody of the eyes and heart was part of our formation! As you say, as Philip Wilson grew older, understood the gravity of sexual abuse for victims and was in a position of authority, he acted accordingly. Of course, with our experiences of the past, knowledge of peadophelia and training today we would expect such disclosures to be handled more compassionately with victims and reported immediately...and seemingly he did!
Kaylyn Taylor | 16 July 2018


Congratulations to Eureka Report for publishing this rare, convincing piece of investigative reporting. The principal substantive criticism in the comments of readers is disbelief that Wilson did not know that paedophilia existed and was done in great secrecy. In the 1970s I was father of three children and in my forties. Yes I knew that there were 'dirty old men', such as men who publichly exposed themselves and had witnessed an incident on the Paris Metro. I also knew that some fathers molested their daughters, indeed knew one victim personally whose mother had killed her husband when she realised what he was doing to their daughter. But even as a non-practicing Catholic, as I was in the 1970s, it would never have occured to me that an ordained priest, irrespective of his sexual orientation, would molest young children, not least given the words of Jesus on the subject. The fact that significant numbers did is why the revelation today of their sinfulness is so shocking to Catholics, including their fellow priests. To apply uncritically today's knowledge and norms to the past often leads to false conclusions, as I believe it may have done in Wilson's case.
James Ingram | 16 July 2018


A lot of commenters here have alluded to the lack of historical awareness of paedophilia or child sexual abuse (by clergy). I'm sorry, I just can't accept this at least how it is being stated. A family I know found out about their son being sexually abused, went straight up to the religious leaders involved and they did something knowing full well, abuse was wrong. Thing is the abuser was sent back to the USA and where did he end up, in a school. Another family from the same parish were warned about not sending their son on a camp because of the 'reputation' of the priest running it. 30 years later and after the abuse of other children, these two clergy have been exposed, well one has, fully. I am convinced there was a small ring happening in this parish as I know of other men (non-religious) fully involved in that parish. How many people knew. I also know that prominent anti-abuse commenters also knew about sexual activity of clergy in the seminaries but said and did nothing. They were apparently, just stunned. Meanwhile, more sexual abuse against children and adults occurred. So, what indeed are we actually talking about when we say that paedophilia was 'unheard of'. Yes, the concept may have been, but there is s much evidence that clergy sexual activity was and still is a very well-known unknown.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 16 July 2018


In the 50s we were told to beware of bad men. No Catholic parent would have believed a child who told them the person who had done such a terrible could possibly be that lovely priest who said Mass for them each Sunday. A young priest might have passed the accusation on to his bishop who would most likely be unable to grasp the concept that one of his priests could possibly do such a thing. The victim would struggle to suppress the memory, but it would resurface on every significant occasion that involved sexuality. We live in a vale of tears.
Margaret McDonald | 16 July 2018


The research on human memory indicates that while people's memories of what happened are usually quite clear about the gist of the events, they can be somewhat hazy about details. Timing is particularly prone to slippage. This means that it is quite possible for both Bishop Wilson and the informant to be telling the truth as they remember it, rather than lying.
Judy Redman | 16 July 2018


Thank you Alan for your interesting article. Clearly you have some direct and relevant experience in relation to this matter. But there is a major gap in the story and that is the circumstances leading up the tragic death of the Late Fr Glen Walsh. May I suggest that you undertake more research into this holy priest who took his own life rather than testify against Archbishop Philip Wilson.

In concluding, you suggest that the reason why Philip Wilson went to such lengths to try to have the case thrown out could be that he believes he has told the truth and is unwilling to give in to what he perceives to be a witch-hunt, and this is certainly one potential explanation. But a more plausible explanation is that Philip Wilson saw that he had no choice. Once the legal process commenced, he had only two options, to plead guilty or not guilty. The most probable explanation is that the lawyers told him he would win and he saw that as the best outcome for him and the Church, notwithstanding a period of pain along the way. If this was the case, it would be yet another example of the poor legal advice received by the Church over many years. Any corporate executive will tell us that over their career they have received legal advice that they rejected because it was in conflict with the values of their organisation. It is a great pity that more of this did not occur in the Church.

Another interesting aspect is the comments on your article. Our Church is a Church in mourning and many of the stages of grief are being expressed here – shock, denial, anger & bargaining that our beloved Church could have done such terrible things and that we are embarrassed that we have been held accountable for our actions.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher said in his homily for the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord - "Powerful interests now seek to marginalise religious believers and beliefs, especially Christian ones, and exclude them from public life. They would end funding to faith-based schools, hospitals and welfare agencies, strip us of charitable status and protections, cast us as 'Public Enemy No. 1'”. If we are 'Public Enemy No. 1' we – the Church – have brought this on ourselves. This is adopting a victim mentality and does not allow us to move forward from this terrible time in the history of our beloved Church. We could work through each element Anthony Fisher has outlined, but taking just one – school funding - recent communication between the federal government and the whole of the education sector was poor. But this was not an attack on religion in Australia as illustrated by the response of the New South Wales' Education Minister, Rob Stokes, who stated that he had not ruled out court action if the Turnbull Government backtracks on its funding deal for the state's schools. Rob Stokes said the new plan was mixed for NSW. He said that the NSW Government would have to find $1.7 billion in savings over six years as part of the National Education Reform Agreement with the Commonwealth, which was struck in 2013. So clearly not an attack on our Church.

This has been a terrible time in the history of our Church and, the fact is our Church is a church in mourning. But there are hopes of recovery. The first step has to be an acceptance of accountability and major reforms in governance by the archbishops and bishops, and there are signs of this with a number of archbishops and bishops finally acknowledging that there has been failures in leadership.


Garry Nolan | 16 July 2018


The ABC is clearly about bias against the Catholic Church. The ABC does not give the Catholic Church a fair go! They are highly judgmental against the Catholic Church.
Peter Stojanovic | 16 July 2018


Finally an article written with intelligence and by someone seeking the truth. Your integrity and courage to state the truth even if it means having to swim against the tides are admirable. I am happy there are still some people out there who aren’t afraid to ask questions, inform themselves adequately, form an unbiased opinion and share it. Well done Alan!
Elena Moffa | 16 July 2018


As an individual, Philip Wilson may well be innocent of the charge under which he has been convicted by a secular court. But as a senior leader of Catholic clergy, indeed a former president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, he is institutionally responsible and morally guilty of what the current president of the ACBC, Mark Coleridge, referred to as "criminal negligence" and a "catastrophic failure of leadership" by the clergy. If the Catholic bishops want the authority and respect that comes with the role of bishop, then they must be held accountable for the failures of the institution they lead and represent. In other words, if you want the power and the glory, take the punishment and the ignominy: pay the price for your "catastrophic failure" and resign, every last one of you, as have your fellow bishops in Chile. Don't use Philip Wilson as your scapegoat. You're all responsible. You're all guilty of the institutional sin and heresy of clericalism -- not as "individuals" perhaps, but collectively and institutionally as "leaders". So if you want the Catholic faithful to take you serisouly ever again, then accept your institutional responsibility and resign. If you do, you may, in time, after much sincere and painful effort to reform, regain our trust, and with it the only kind of authority -- moral authority -- that an authentic bishop deserves to be given by and for and within the church. But say good bye to institutional power, clerical privilege and sacerdotal glory once and for all.
DD | 16 July 2018


Thank you to Alan and Eureka St. for this clear, logical and critical analysis. It is such a strong piece of investigative reporting. Like many others, I am horrified by the abuse that has occurred, but I’m also distressed by the evidence of clear scapegoating in this and other cases. There are so many elements that are concerning. Reports of behind-the-scenes phone calls to Catholics to enlist their support in this case (and others); the readily-believed arguments by the Prosecution that the complainant was undeniably honest and exact in his memory, and that therefore the accused was dishonest; the assumptions of guilt, and the clear bias and dishonesty of some journalists and the media (pinpointed by Alan); all of these have exacerbated the climate of fear and scapegoating. Many people are suffering from the injustices that beset us at this time. It is to be hoped that commitment such as this – to honesty, integrity and balance will bring about a truthful and just outcome for all.
Jan Barnett rsj | 16 July 2018


Gary Nolan "our Church" has committed no crime. Certain individual members have committed crimes, in blatant opposition to the Church's clearly enunciated doctrines and to her Canon Law. The fact is that pedophilia and the covering up thereof is and has been more common almost everywhere else, than among the Catholic priesthood and Catholic institutions. There has been a concerted 20 year campaign by elements in our society including sadly in Victoria and NSW at least elements of the police, to give the utterly false impression that pedophilia and the covering up thereof is a particularly Catholic phenomenon. This witch hunt is part of it. To say so is not paranoid or defensive, merely stating the facts. Our Church is under attack, for reasons that have nothing to do with any concern for the victims of sexual abuse.
Peter K | 16 July 2018


Hi Peter K. We would all like to wake up tomorrow morning and find out that this has all been a terrible dream. But it has not. We cannot say that pedophilia and the covering up thereof is and has been more common almost everywhere else, than among the Catholic priesthood and Catholic institutions, because it is not true. The extensive work of the Royal Commission proves that. But even if it was true, how does that justify the actions of individuals who held themselves out to be the agents of God on Earth. To reduce what has happened to a matter of statistics is highly offensive to the victims and to all Catholics. To allow a paedophile to continue to preside at the Holy Eucharist is the greatest sin against Christ, the greatest heresy, one can imagine. It has been a matter of heart-breaking frustration that for many years, the laity has tried to alert the bishops and archbishops that the direction we are following will inevitably lead to the crisis we are in today. Unfortunately, the laity who have done so much to help the Church in this regard, have been labelled as disloyal to the Church by many of the bishops and archbishops. Nothing could be further from the truth. We cannot say that this is a witch hunt. It simply is not true and we learn nothing from this. We must accept accountability for what has happened, learn from this terrible time in the history of our Church, and do better in the future – much better – and it is pleasing to see that many good things are occurring.
Garry Nolan | 16 July 2018


DD, your call for honesty, justice and accountability on the clerical abuse issue rings loud and clear, and I'd be confident it's shared by all Catholics. However, I'd regard myself as a member of "the Catholic faithful" who will, I hope, continue to take legitimate Church authority "seriously" as the incumbents' calling and station require, without their having to take the extreme measure you propose. The assignation of corporate criminal guilt to all bishops on a charge of "clericalism" would necessitate its legislative promulgation as a crime, as well as the proving of the "institutional power, clerical privilege and sacerdotal glory" you presume to be the motivation of all bishops. That, I think, is a horse that won't run.
John | 16 July 2018


I remember Bishop Wilson with great gratitude for his actions in correcting the impossible situation in Moss Vale parish when he took over from Bishop Murray. He was a wonderful Bishop who saved the faith of my whole family. So sad to see the persecution he is undergoing now!
Cathy Cleary | 16 July 2018


As indeed was his legal right, Wilson did not cooperate with the police. That was his decision and he should face any consequences. Whether he had been ‘targeted’ or not, his prosecution followed a very thorough and independent inquiry by Margaret Cunneen and consideration by another independent body, the DPP. The NSW Supreme Court and Court of Appeal declined to stay the prosecution. Other clerics cooperated with the police and ultimately engaged fully with the Cunneen Inquiry; Cunneen dealt comprehensively with their actions in her public volumes and did not recommend prosecution of them. I do not believe the actions against Wilson constituted a ‘witch-hunt’. Even if they did, our legal institutions are strong enough to ensure that justice will prevail. Questions about Wilson’s conviction will be dealt with on appeal. The Australian bishops have continued to resist public claims for transparency and accountability. Despite their rhetoric, the majority of bishops still seem to be challenged by the notion that the Church should be held accountable in society. In this environment, rightly or wrongly, a consequence may be that reporters and others may focus unduly on clerical actions and omissions.
Andrew Phelan | 16 July 2018


Please make sure that the presiding magistrate sees this article. My confidence in Australian law administrators and politicians disappears daily.
Des Welladsen | 17 July 2018


The simple question - why has there been no charges laid against others in the Newcastle diocese belonging to other groups? During the week a brief article appeared on the ABC Online News the same question being asked why other victims and who also gave evidence to the Royal Commission. Points made by these individuals adds weight to Alan Atkinson's article.
Nicholas Agocs | 17 July 2018


Great Thanks, Alan Atkinson, for restoring balance to this discussion and to ES for the courage to publish it! Some points: there's a 'get-even' attitude among liberal Catholics against conservative Bishops that needs to be called out here, noticeably in the instance of Cardinal Pell, whose theology and ecclesiology oughtn't to occasion the taking of sides on the child abuse question. So long as we all profess to be followers of Christ our differences should not arise out of such trivialities. Having taught in Newcastle, I know +Wilson to be a contained man, brainy but hardly effusive and, in some respects, the victim of this. Secondly, as a former teacher I can attest to the naivete and innocence of the Seventies, when one of my duties was to drive boys to and from school, often to their homes en route to my own. A great friend who was a boarder-mistress told me of staying up all night to comfort homesick children and of curling up in bed with them and falling asleep out of sheer exhaustion.
Michael Furtado | 17 July 2018


I am puzzled by the assertions by commenters that "clericalism" (the heresy that only clerics have any importance in the Church) is somehow the cause of the problem. The period in which the vast majority of these abuses and coverups by clergy occurred (approx. 1965 to 1990) has coincided with the first and most intense part of the period since the Second Vatican Council (concluded 1965) in which clericalism is less of a problem in the Catholic Church than at any time in the past 2000 years, as the role of the laity has been played up (sometimes even excessively) and the role of the clergy has been diminished as never before. As for the ludicrous claim that Australian Catholic clergy have an excess of "power, privilege and glory", it's hard to believe that the people making such assertions have ever even lived in Australia or spoken to an Australian in the past 50 years.
Peter K | 17 July 2018


Thank you for fair and unbiased reporting. I could not help but think of Jesus when the crowd were screaming "crucify him" As a modern day scene when Archbishop Wilson was entering & exiting the court house! "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"
pauline | 17 July 2018


Thankyou for a very fair and balanced article I agree it feels like a witch hunt in respect to Archbishop Wilson and he is appealing because he sees himself as innocent- not a good reflection on the ABC but not surprising . I agree how can this case be proved beyond reasonable doubt? Will watch the appeal process with interest
Lisa Bowyer | 17 July 2018


To answer your question, Nick Agocs, as a Perthite you should note that the resignation of the former Anglican Archbisop there, +Roger Herft, was occasioned by him admitting that he had covered up misdoings within his own Church, while he was still Anglican Bishop of Newcastle.
Michael Furtado | 17 July 2018


Finally, a journalist who has a sense of balance and doesn't follow the pack! Thank you, Alan, for investigating this and uncovering the hidden agenda of the press. I recall the likes of Lindy Chamberlain who was convicted guilty of the murder of her baby, Azaria. I remember how the media demonised a young mother and chiselled her character to be a monster. It is the same today. Please keep on writing about Archbishop Wilson. Your words are more informed than the accusatory ones.
Rachele | 17 July 2018


With all due respect to John (and Peter K), you misunderstand my point. I am not calling for the bishops to be charged and punished by secular courts for a crime that doesn’t exist under legislation that doesn’t exist; nor am I calling clericalism a “crime” but a “sin and a heresy”, as has Pope Francis on various occasions. Indeed, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the current president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, is the one who spoke of the “catastrophic failure of leadership” and “criminal neglect” by the clerical institution the bishops head. My point is this: if the bishops (as institutional leaders and official representatives, not as individual citizens) want to exercise their institutional power within the church (meaning over all of us who are “faithful Catholics”), then they must take responsibility for the collective failure of the institution they lead and represent. Many of us have lost faith in the bishops, not necessarily or principally as individuals (some of them are very fine men for whom I have enormous respect), but precisely as bishops, as leaders, as representatives of Christ. They have failed to live the “ontological change” effected by the sacrament of holy orders no less so than an adulterer does with respect to the sacrament of holy matrimony. They have betrayed us, the Body of Christ, and so Christ himself. Given the nature and extent of that failure and the gravity of its consequences for the “Catholic faithful”, they ought to do what the bishops of Chile did (in broadly similar circumstances) and resign. The Chilean bishops lied to protect their own clerical institution, its power, prestige and reputation -- lying to the pope and deeply embarrassing him! They got caught; and, however grudgingly or sincerely, they accepted collective responsibility, as they should have. The pope is going through the list and deciding which of them bears personal responsibility and accepting the resignations of those who are guilty (five so far, I believe). The only major difference I can see between the two cases is that the Australian episcopacy lied to us and got caught, while the Chileans lied to the pope and got caught.
DD | 18 July 2018


Thank you for your clarification, DD. However, I think you exaggerate the co-responsibility of the bishops in this matter - some were not in office when the "catastrophic failure" of leadership occurred.
John | 19 July 2018


This raises several interesting points. It should be sent to the mainstream papers.
William Frilay | 20 July 2018


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