The sentencing of Archbishop Wilson



Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson has been sentenced to 12 months' detention for concealing child sexual abuse. Magistrate Robert Stone adjourned the matter to 14 August while Wilson's home detention order is assessed for suitability. It's very likely that he will appeal his conviction and sentence.

Archbishop Philip WilsonAn appeal may well succeed, but that's not the end of the matter. This has been a six-year saga relating to events which occurred more than 40 years ago. The law is complex; and emotions are running high.

When bishop of Wollongong and later Archbishop of Adelaide, Wilson did a lot to improve the Catholic Church's national response to crimes of child sexual abuse committed by church personnel. But the present criminal conviction and sentence of imprisonment relates to his time as a young priest in the diocese of Maitland-Newcastle back in 1976. It was only later when he was Archbishop of Adelaide that some of his earlier behaviour came back to haunt him. Local residents in Maitland-Newcastle who were sexually abused as children by either Fr McAlinden or Fr Fletcher have been very outspoken against Wilson, regardless of his later behaviour as a bishop nationally committed to cleaning up the mess.

In 1990, the New South Wales parliament had amended the Crimes Act creating a new offence of concealing a serious indictable offence. Section 316(1) provides:

'If a person has committed a serious indictable offence and another person who knows or believes that the offence has been committed and that he or she has information which might be of material assistance in securing the apprehension of the offender or the prosecution or conviction of the offender for it fails without reasonable excuse to bring that information to the attention of a member of the police force or other appropriate authority, that other person is liable to imprisonment for 2 years.'

In 1999, the New South Wales Law Reform Commission reviewed this provision and found it wanting. The majority of commissioners recommended complete repeal of the provision. They said: 'The Commission disapproves of substituting a legal duty which is enforced by a criminal sanction for a moral one unless there are overall substantial benefits to society in doing so. No such overall benefits have been demonstrated in relation to s 316(1)'.

A minority of commissioners thought there might be a case for some provision but even they said, 'It must be accepted that the present provision is seriously flawed; to be brutal about it, it is in several crucial respects virtually meaningless. In our view, the essential problem is not that the section's underlying philosophy is mistaken but that it breaches the fundamental rule that the criminal law be unambiguous.' Basically, the law was making it a criminal offence for anyone not to report to police anything they might know about the criminal behaviour of any other person 'without reasonable excuse'. But no one knew what constituted a reasonable excuse, especially when the victim of the crime or their trusted confidantes chose not to go to the police.


"Wilson should have stood aside as a bishop until the matter was resolved."


For whatever reason, back in July 2012, Wilson refused to cooperate with the NSW police when they were investigating complaints against McAlinden. Wilson as a young priest and budding canon lawyer had been the notary at a church trial of McAlinden. Detective Graeme Parker, the head of Strike Force Lantle, told the Sydney Morning Herald: 'It's a shame because there are questions that really need to be asked of Archbishop Wilson. We made numerous attempts to get him to the table to be interviewed but he's exercised his right to silence.' I daresay that if Wilson had cooperated with the police back then, that would have been the end of the matter. From that time on, victims of abuse thought that Wilson had something to hide.

Then in May 2014, the renowned public prosecutor Margaret Cunneen QC, who conducted a state commission of inquiry into child sexual abuse in the Maitland-Newcastle area, reported that various priests and Bishop Malone had known information about allegations of abuse committed by McAlinden and Fletcher. She decided that there was not enough material to warrant charges under section 316 against Malone or the other priests publicly identified in her report even if they may have had some information about the wrongdoing of McAlinden and Fletcher. She investigated the way the church had dealt with complaints of child sexual abuse by three victims (identified merely as AL, AK and AC) who later as adults decided they did not want to involve the police.

Deciding that no charges could be laid against Malone under section 316, Cunneen observed that 'on the material available it is unlikely, if Malone sufficiently raised the issue of reasonable excuse, that the prosecution would be able to prove the absence of reasonable excuse beyond reasonable doubt, given that the evidence indicates AL and AK did not want to involve the police'; and that 'if Malone raised the issue of reasonable excuse on the basis that AC was not prepared to report her complaint against McAlinden to the police, it is unlikely that the prosecution would be able to prove the absence of reasonable excuse beyond reasonable doubt'.

Cunneen also wrote a confidential volume of her report, and we now know that much of that report related to Philip Wilson. In her published report she stated that 'there was sufficient evidence warranting the prosecution of a senior church official for offences relating to knowledge of potential offences committed by Fletcher. This is dealt with in the confidential volume of the report so as not to prejudice potential future criminal proceedings.' Wilson should have stood aside as a bishop until the matter was resolved.

It took another six years for Wilson to be convicted by Magistrate Stone of having heard in 1976 about a series of assaults by Fletcher on a ten-year-old child (Peter Creigh) in 1971 and of having failed to bring the information to the attention of the police between 2004 (when Fletcher was charged with similar offences in relation to another child) and 2006 (when Fletcher died). The magistrate also considered what Wilson might have known about two others of Fletcher's victims. One victim who cannot be named said that as a young boy he went to confession to Wilson in the 1970s and told him about Fletcher's abuse. Another victim went to the police in 2004 and Wilson got to hear of that when he visited members of that victim's family in Newcastle.

Though Magistrate Stone wrote a 59-page judgment he gave no real consideration to whether or not Wilson had a reasonable excuse for failing to report in 2004 what he had heard in 1976 from the 15-year-old Creigh. The magistrate found Creigh to be a very credible witness: 'He was a genuine and truthful witness who did his best to accurately recount what he told the accused.' Stone was convinced that Creigh came forward and gave his evidence against Wilson without any motive or self-interest. 'He was first approached by the police — he didn't go to the police for his own purposes.'

Undoubtedly an appeal court, if asked, will need to look closely at whether someone like Wilson had a reasonable excuse for not going to the police reporting what he heard about a criminal offence 40 years later when the victim himself, long since an adult, had decided not to go to the police. The problem with section 316 becomes apparent when you consider that technically the police could have charged Creigh with the same offence, given that he had more direct knowledge of Fletcher's criminal behaviour than did Wilson.


"It's fair to say that the public and the media were expecting some heads with mitres on them to roll during the course of the royal commission on child abuse."


The prosecution of Wilson has taken on great significance in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Australian royal commissions are strange beasts. Think only of the present commission into the banks. The public and the media demand scalps. Heads have rolled promptly at the banks commission. Just look at the AMP board. It's fair to say that the public and the media were expecting some heads with mitres on them to roll during the course of the royal commission on child abuse. Given that over 60 per cent of the complaints in relation to religious organisations related to the Catholic Church, there was an expectation that some of our bishops would lose their jobs.

During the conduct of the commission, Brian Finnigan was the only Catholic bishop to resign, quickly and unexpectedly. He had been Vicar General in the Ballarat Diocese for eight critical years when Ronald Mulkearns was bishop. He was later executive secretary to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference capping his clerical career as Auxiliary bishop in Brisbane. He gave very unconvincing evidence before the royal commission on 11 and 14 December 2015.

For once, the Vatican and others in the Church moved with great haste. On 30 December 2015, the apostolic nuncio issued a statement that Pope Francis had accepted Finnigan's resignation, he having 'completed 75 years of age in conformity with Canon 401.1'. It was another two years before the royal commission reported its findings on Finnigan. They could not have been more damning: 'Bishop Finnigan's evidence was highly unsatisfactory. He gave the clear impression that he was seeking to protect himself and the Church or the bishop at the time, and he made no effort to give clear and honest evidence. The result is that we have not accepted Bishop Finnigan's evidence except where it is corroborated by other evidence or where it is inherently probable and not contradicted by other evidence.'

Understandably, victims want to see at least one serving bishop punished for the failings of an institution which has been proven to fall short so often in terms of culture, institutional accountability and personal responsibility. Philip Wilson has spent six years and great resources engaged in legal appeals trying to avoid this conviction. He has written a series of letters to the people of the Archdiocese of Adelaide giving details of his medical condition, including early onset of Alzheimer's and a positive response to treatment. As any Australian citizen, he is of course entitled to appeal the conviction. But even if the appeal courts ultimately agree with the New South Wales Law Reform Commission that section 316 is unworkable or that no court could be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that Wilson was acting unreasonably, there's no getting away from the fact that the magistrate has found Wilson's evidence extremely unreliable. In 1976, Wilson heard direct evidence from a child about horrific abuse by a priest. He assured the child that he would take the matter up with the parish priest. But he then did nothing further. The damage done to the Adelaide Archdiocese these last six years has been great.

It's time for the Archbishop to tender his resignation and for Pope Francis to accept the resignation promptly. Wilson might then take his time to pursue any further legal appeals which could take a considerable time if they go all the way to the High Court. Hopefully, Peter Creigh and other victims might have grounds for thinking that the Church leadership 'gets it', or is at least being called to account.



Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ is the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia.

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, Archbishop Philip Wilson, clergy sexual abuse, royal commission



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Existing comments

A clear and incisive article, Frank. You hit the bullseye there. At base this is a matter of trust. I think the Catholic hierarchy in this country have a massive job to do in trying to rebuild public trust. The Vatican clearly knows this and I hope they continue to be proactive here.

Edward Fido | 03 July 2018  

Frank Brennan frames this issue in terms of the law and emotions. It seems to me there is also the question of moral responsibility in all this. Even if he had 'reasonable excuse' and is found on any appeal to have had it, and even if emotions were running only at the level they were when Wilson was told Creigh's story, the question remains why Wilson did not do what he undertook to do and whether morally he was justified in not doing so. It is here that the institutional responsibility also comes under scrutiny. Was Wilson - in the absence of the high emotions allegedly engendered by the Royal Commission - simply acquiescing in the prevailing ethos of minimising the seriousness of such complaints and maximising protection of the church's reputation? Or did he have morally more defensible grounds for not honouring his undertaking? Wilson and church personnel in comparable positions may feel justified in asking in Scriptural terms, 'If they do this with the green wood, what will they do with the dry?'

MICHAEL LEAHY | 03 July 2018  

When will a member of the Catholic clergy guilty of a criminal offence, especially one involving children, admit their guilt, express remorse, apologise to the victim/s, plead guilty in a court of law and willingly serve out their sentence? Shouldn't we expect such a response from any Christian, let alone from our clergy, rather than the typical self-interested response? No wonder the Catholic Church is in such a terrible crisis!

Grant Allen | 03 July 2018  

The NSW Parliament is now conceding that section 316 (introduced in 1990) is not the appropriate legislative vehicle for dealing with a failure to report child sexual abuse. The new section 316A being introduced under the Criminal Legislation Amendment (Child Sexual Abuse) Bill 2018 [NSW] provides:

(1) An adult:

(a) who knows, believes or reasonably ought to know that a child abuse offence has been committed against another person, and

(b) who knows, believes or reasonably ought to know that he or she has information that might be of material assistance in securing the apprehension of the offender or the prosecution or conviction of the offender for that offence, and

(c) who fails without reasonable excuse to bring that information to the attention of a member of the NSW Police Force as soon as it is practicable to do so, is guilty of an offence.

Maximum penalty: Imprisonment for 2 years.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), a person has a reasonable excuse for failing to bring information to the attention of a member of the NSW Police Force if:

(a) the person believes on reasonable grounds that the information is already known to police, or

(b) the person has reported the information in accordance with the applicable requirements under Part 2 of Chapter 3 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 or believes on reasonable grounds that another person has done so, or

(c) the person has reported the information to the Ombudsman under Part 3A of the Ombudsman Act 1974 or believes on reasonable grounds that another person has done so, or

(d) the person has reasonable grounds to fear for the safety of the person or any other person (other than the offender) if the information were to be reported to police, or

(e) the information was obtained by the person when the person was under the age of 18 years, or

(f) the alleged victim was an adult at the time that the information was obtained by the person and the person believes on reasonable grounds that the alleged victim does not wish the information to be reported to police.

(3) Subsection (2) does not limit the grounds on which it may be established that a person has a reasonable excuse for failing to bring information to the attention of a member of the NSW Police Force.

Frank Brennan SJ | 03 July 2018  

Canon 401.2 of the Code of Canon Law provides: ‘A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.’ Pursuant to Canon 416, an episcopal see then becomes vacant when the resignation is ‘accepted by the Roman Pontiff’. With the scandal in Chile, all the bishops offered their resignations, and the pope has now accepted three of those resignations.

Frank Brennan SJ | 03 July 2018  

Despite some of the simple media reporting, Archbishop Wilson has not been convicted of failing to report abuse of a child in 1976 when he was informed of prior sexual assaults on the child in 1971. He has been convicted under a 1990 law of failing to report between 2004 and 2006 what he knew of a 1976 conversation with a victim (Mr Creigh) in relation to an offence committed in 1971.

This was the charge: ‘Between 12:01 am on 22/04/2004 and 11:59 pm on 07/01/2006 at East Maitland. Whereas [J] in 1971 committed a serious indictable offence, namely, indecent assault of a male, aged 10 years old, Philip Edward WILSON between 22 April 2004 and 7 January 2006 at MAITLAND and elsewhere in the State of New South Wales, believing that [J] committed that offence and knowing that he had information which might be of material assistance in securing the prosecution of [J] for that offence, without reasonable excuse, failed to bring that information to the attention of a member of the New South Wales Police Force.’

In 2004, [J] (who was Fr Fletcher) had already been charged with offences in relation to another child back in the 1970s, and was being charged with offences in relation to a third child who had come forward to police all these years later as an adult. So Wilson was convicted of failing, without reasonable excuse, to provide information to police in 2004 in relation to the 1971 assaults on Creigh. In 2004, neither Wilson, Creigh nor any other person had provided police with details of the 1971 assaults on Creigh. The magistrate also considered evidence from a fourth victim of Fletcher who claims to have informed Wilson of the details of assault back in the 1970s.

The relevant period of Wilson’s wrongdoing is said to be between 22 April 2004 when Fletcher was first charged with assault offences and 7 January 2006 when Fletcher died in prison.

Frank Brennan SJ | 03 July 2018  

Survivors and Friends Foundation. Fr Frank, even if the statute is appealable which you have gone to great lengths to explain the further damage done to survivors both those who gave evidence in this case and those watching the case with great interest across Australia if Phillip Wilson chooses to appeal will be in my view immeasurable. The public confidence in religious institutions has been near fatally damaged, to try an appeal on legal technicalities which many ordinary Australians will find confusing if not obtuse would damage both Philip Wilsons remaining credibility as well as the reputation of the Church. His sentence is in a way light in fact many survivors find the fact he wasn't going to see the inside of a correctional facility highly frustrating. But it is the sentence that counts. My advice is for the Catholic Bishops Conference to call a plenary meeting with key survivors and advocates across Australia and sit down and discuss the findings of the Royal Commission as well as going on a journey of healing and listening to survivors over extended consultations and listening sessions. Only with listening and walking with survivors in a new open transparent compassionate and trauma informed way will any progress be made to break the barriers. The outcome survivors may like to see and many I know are calling for is for Phillip Wilson to resign and consider his future. As Magistrate Stone stated "Wilson’s primary motive for failing to tell police in 2004 about alleged offences by Fletcher in the 1970s was to protect the church, and he had shown no remorse or contrition."... he went on to say "“Those who conceal abuse and shield perpetrators from accountability… are demonstrating that you are placing the needs of the perpetrator as a higher priority over the needs of victims and their families,” “In this case, the offender is a senior figure in one of the most respected institutions in our society. What has occurred is the infliction of gross acts of sexual abuse on people who were young, defenceless and vulnerable, committed for sexual gratification.” People of “simple faith” who respected and trusted their local parish priest were “betrayed most callously and cruelly… not only by the perpetrator but, as in this case, by those who knew and concealed it” .... perhaps Fr Frank you and the ACU could consider beginning a new process of listening and walking together with survivors, it may help to heal some wounds and show that there are good people within the institutions who champion the cause of victim survivors across the country. It might be a first step towards reconciliation and healing.

Richie | 04 July 2018  

At the heart of this prolonged saga is the suffering of victims of child sexual abuse. Secular law has been the instrument by which accountability has been achieved. This should lead to some very serious thinking about Canon Law. Wilson has, as is his right, fought this in a very determined way. Now the verdict has been delivered and the sentence pronounced we can hope that the law can be further strengthened to protect the vulnerable. Young people who are part of a church may have some very great difficulties in articulating and acting upon the significant level of betrayal involved in child sexual abuse within that church.

Pam | 04 July 2018  

Interesting article. There is a moral panic about child sex abuse and the Catholic Chuch. Also interesting that amendments to the law currently proposed in the NSW Parliament removed the obligation to report if the victim does not want to. Lawyer friends working in probation and parole were shocked when this law first came in. Families would be surprised to hear they are obliged to report sexual abuse in their midst under threat of imprisonment. There ma be many reasons why Archbishop Wilson believes he did the right thing or didn't do the wrong thing, or can't remember. I agree he should resign anyway. Spend a year in home detention as a public action of penance for wrongs done by the 2 other priests and forgo an appeal.

John Synnott | 04 July 2018  

If I was a cartoonist I would draw the following image for this story .... a child/adult victims of sexual abuse by clergy being crushed by a huge mass of words and with a whole group of bishops and lawyers jumping up and down on top of the pile.

Stephen de Weger ( | 04 July 2018  

All the attention and focus remains on Wilson's despicable behaviour. NOT one word of thanks or recognition of the courage displayed by the late Glen Walsh. Rest in Peace, Glen!

Andrew | 04 July 2018  

Thanks, Frank, this is illuminating. I am wondering whether the burden of showing "reasonable excuse" was not upon the prosecution but upon the the defence and what standard of proof applied. Perhaps the magistrate by dismissing the evidence of Wilson dealt with any excuses.

Kimball Chen | 04 July 2018  

Thank you Frank for your assessment of this sad saga. I agree that for Wilson to appeal his conviction will only reopen the wounds of those damaged souls and their families. What saddens me most as a practising (but questioning) Catholic for over 60 years, is the inability of the hierarchy to recognise that by attempting to put child sexual abuse under the carpet, to protect the 'good name' of the Church, they have done enormous damage to the loyalty of those of us who continue to support the Church, both by our attendance at Mass and our financial support. I do wonder who will in the end bear the costs of financial reparations to the victims. I have read where churches have had to be sold to avoid bankruptcy of Dioceses . When you consider that the sacrifices of parishioners from years gone by, who have now gone to their Maker, were the driving force behind the building of these churches, you have to ask was their sacrifice all in vein? My wife and I are taking an active role in the Plenary Council 2022 Session, recently held here in Canberra. I sincerely hope that the wisdom of the Laity will be heard and heeded by the Clergy and Hierarchy of the Australian Church. In my humble opinion for the church elite to fail to heed that advice may prove mortally fatal to the organised Church in this country.

Gavin O'Brien | 04 July 2018  

The global identity of the Catholic Church is in tatters after decades of abuse and cover-ups at the highest level. 'We are all the poorer for what our church has become' said Magistrate Stone. Its founder Jesus Christ was emphatic about the pristine status of children by stating: "Solemnly, I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 18).

Trish Martin | 04 July 2018  

A sparkling dissemination, if that's the word, of a complex legal case, thanks Frank. What sticks in my mind is that in 1971, when some of these offences occurred, Archbishop Wilson was then a lad of twenty, not long out of short pants and hardly ordained. When housed at the vast Presbytery in Maitland in 1976, he would have been fresh out of the seminary at 25 years of age and still wet behind the ears. Nor would the then very young and inexperienced Fr Wilson have had the authority, beyond that of the moral and personal and perhaps, but only perhaps, for he was not yet then a canon lawyer, to take on the weight of the gross sexual crimes of a much older and senior priest residing there at the time, and presumably well-versed in covering up his crimes - a matter that the archbishop has steadfastly, and credibly, maintained he had no knowledge of at the time. I think some mitigation is in order.

Michael Furtado | 04 July 2018  

Your clarification yesterday, Fr Frank, of the charges against Archbishop Wilson and Dr Furtado's clarification of his position in 1971, seem to support the old derogation that the law is an ass. It also seems that Archbishop Wilson has been made a scapegoat for the innumerable thousands of people in all institutions (including families) who have over some fifty years failed to come forward with their knowledge of abuse. It is a matter of some wonder whether his failure materially interfered with the process of justice when the perpetrator was already indicted and heading towards a prison term for his offences.

john frawley | 04 July 2018  

As always,incisive,accurate and comprehensive. Many thanks, Frank

Peter Hoban | 04 July 2018  

I'm still uncomfortable with some themes in the national discussion and wonder whether that amplifies the pain victims feel. Does our appetite for salacious ever help support people in pain? I expect we will continue to cloud insight with emotion but I am grateful for helpful articles like this and the challenge to look forward. Thanks.

Peter Aspin | 04 July 2018  

If the young priest in Newcastle thought he was protecting the brand, what does the ageing archbishop in Adelaide think he is doing now? And why does it fall to a Jesuit academic to public ally suggest resignation as the appropriate course of action while the Bishops’ Conference remains dumb? Is it that they still ‘don’t get it’?

Ginger Meggs | 04 July 2018  

I agree with Edward Fido. The article is clear about the law - but is the law clear? The article is incisive - but where does it cut? You see, I pulled up a friend yesterday who said: I'm glad Wilson has been found guilty of a 'cover-up'. I objected not to her being glad but to her use of the term 'cover-up'. I said to 'cover up' means primarily to take action to conceal as in 'I used netting to cover up my fruit trees against the frost. In a secondary meaning it is used to denote fabricating a story to conceal what really happened. In a third meaning it can mean making excuses for some 'inexcusable' activity. I was not defending Archbishop Wilson - he has a legal team second only to the team defending Cardinal Pell to do that. I tried to make the point that what he did was do what many public servants do: followed the moral compass of the Three Wise Monkeys. See no evil. Speak no evil. Hear no evil. That way trouble is avoided. He didn't take positive action against a colleague. He didn't cover up. He ignored.

Uncle Pat | 04 July 2018  

My interview with John Laws on Archbishop Philip Wilson and the seal of the confessional. Listen Press 'Launch Audio Player', and then press 'Download'. The story commences on the podcast at 19:25. My interview runs from 23:14-34:35. Every day that now passes without His Grace resigning is a disaster for our Church. Oremus.

Frank Brennan SJ | 04 July 2018  

It was good to read Michael Furtado's measured response. There may well be a reason why Wilson chose not to cooperate with police. I'm guessing he believed he was a target. For a little background read this:

Alan Atkinson | 04 July 2018  

And this was my interview with Ali Clarke on ABC Adelaide this morning on Archbishop Wilson and the seal of the confessional. Listen. The interview runs from 1:18:00 to 1:26:22

Frank Brennan SJ | 04 July 2018  

Archbishop Wilson is a victim of grooming by "familism" described by the President of the Pope's Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Vincenzo Paglia, in his address on World Family Day, 15th May 2014, at the United Nations Headquarters. My wife and I assessed this condition as suffered by Wilson in our one hour meeting with him on 4th July 2005 in Archbishop's House, Brisbane. Wilson was referred to us by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Francesco Canalini's, letter to us, dated 18th June 2001. The wording of this referral was ambiguous in stating that: "... it would be helpful to enter into dialogue with [Wilson] about the aspirations and methods of your own organisation [Job's Trust]". Job's Trust is not an organisation but a, ecumenical group of members of families who by associating together are putting into action an educational project in sexuality and true love within the family. My wife and I joined this group in October 1967 prior to our invalid Catholic marriage in 1970 which became valid as a natural marriage in 1991 after conceptions of our eight children consistent with our Catholic Church helper, Pope Paul V1, making our families aware of their identity and role in Humanae Vitae, 1968, 12, title: ."Two Inseparable Aspects [of Marriage]:Union and Procreation". Oliver Clark, Job's Trust

Oliver Clark | 04 July 2018  

I was a victim of a hospital chaplain pedophile priest when I was 12 years old when he groomed, seduced, molested and the rejected me when I reached puberty as he only 'got off' on pre pubesent boys. I can assure you that that experience never leaves your mind even 60+ years later. Wilson has been sentenced to 12 months for covering up the crime. He gets a good deal, as a victim I only so far have received a 60+ year sentence. Wilson should have stood down from his Archbishop role before the trial let alone after his conviction. The silence from the Australian Bishops Conference is despicable !

David Field | 04 July 2018  

Your article reveals Fr Frank what many have suspected for years. The catholic hierarchy worldwide knew offences were being committed against children, but were more concerned about the reputation of the church than justice for victims. Whether this can be interpreted as some lofty nose thumbing at the law of the land, or as a perceived inherited culture of church immunity from suit, prior to Pope Francis election , that was the attitude of former Pope Benedict, and the Cardinals. Some whistle blowers were even threatened with excommunication. Consider Bill Morris forced into resignation for inter alia : telling Pope Benedict in a personal meeting of a vicious sex abuse case at a Toowoomba school where the Pope dismissed the bishop’s request to remain at his post to deal with it. This issue had arisen closer to home for Benedict eg "231 children sexually abused at a Catholic boys' choir run by Pope Benedict's brother George Ratzinger, the Regensburg choir from 1964 to 1994." The Journal Dublin Jan 8 2016. We expect the shepherds to tell the truth (dont compare them to bank executives) because when they dont, it blackens the name of the church and drives people away.

Frank Armstrong | 04 July 2018  

There is enough in what Frank says that makes me suspect that Archbishop Wilson has been made a scapegoat. If that is true, and for no other, I hope his appeal succeeds and, while I am a social ethicist rather than a lawyer, I commend Archbishop Wilson's brother Bishops for standing by him as well as those in these columns who reject the implied 'quid pro quo' that urges the Archbishop to resign. No amount of reasoning invoking the horrific abuse of children by priests is exigent enough to justify the jailing of a man, whom many believe to be innocent. Those who call for Archbishop Wilson's resignation appeal to utilitarianism and not Catholic Social Teaching to justify their view. The greater good argument, claiming that the benefits to a group of people outweigh the harm done to another group, is always flawed because it always reduces the freedom and morality of all people when a large group uses a small group as a means to their ends, no matter how noble the ends. This is the reason why Catholics do not agree with the utilitarian ethicist, Peter Singer, whose catch-cry is always that the ends justify the means.

Michael Furtado | 04 July 2018  

What's the mystery here? There's one perfectly sufficient reason why the Australian hierarchy hasn't called for the removal of Archbishop Wilson. And it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure it out. Dirty hands. Same reason why the fact of U.S. Cardinal McCarrick's well known immoral antics was suppressed by all those now supposedly "shocked" bishops, for decades. Wake up, folks, and God save us all.

HH | 04 July 2018  

as usual fr frank, your comments are practical and get straight to the heart of the matter, in my opinion Archbishop Wilson should have done something about this priest and made him resign.

maryellen flynn | 04 July 2018  

The recently appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Adelaide Archdiocese, Bishop Gregory O'Kelly has stated that at this time it would be inappropriate for him to comment further on the sentencing of Archbishop Wilson, and has placed the focus on working to ensure the safety of every child in our Church and schools. This task is something within the practical reach of all involved in schools and families, and acts, I believe, as an antidote to unproductive and possibly unjust supposition.

John | 04 July 2018  

Why no mention of Catholic teaching on the absolute power of authorisation possessed by members of families in natural marriages of their helpers, including consecrated celibates, and why this power is lacking in sacramental Catholic marriages consented to on the basis that consecrated celibacy is a higher vocation than marriage? Fr Brennan might recall what he told Geraldine Doogue on ABC “Compass”, 15th August 2004 which was that “marriage has that intimacy that calls to account” not possessed by consecrated celibates. In this interview the narrator quoted Jesuit Fr Michael Kelly: “ I suppose people like Frank and me are the last of that generation. A world of settled pieties, of established and respected authorities. And I suppose too of a parental generation that was - in my instance - I mean I look back at it fairly bizarrely now, was really to consign us to a life of celibacy from the age of 18. But that's what they did.” Following our meeting with Archbishop Wilson on 4th July 2005 my wife and I in a natural marriage called Archbishop Wilson to account for his assent to Humanae Vitae, 1968 which he gave in his email to us of 19th July 2005. This was after his letter to us of 19th December 2003 dissenting from this teaching. This dissent was by this letter stating that: “Different groups within the Church and in society are working both to prevent child abuse now and in the future and to work to assist those who have been abused in the past. Each group needs to respect the work of the other but it would not be possible, nor would it be advantageous, to combine all the activities.” Oliver Clark, Job’s Trust

Oliver Clark | 05 July 2018  

Surely the failure to do anything about the abuse were terrible sins at the time or subsequently regardless of how experienced Wilson was. And regardless off what God might decide, the community thinks it was unforgivable. If the conviction is upheld, he should go to jail and the clergy should wear sackcloth and ashes for the period of the sentence.

Lee Boldeman | 05 July 2018  

Sadly, I think many/most of our Catholic Church leaders just don't 'get it'. It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, occur in Church governence after the Australian 2020 Plenary Council. The Bishops have structured this Council so that some lay people may attend, but aren't able to vote! If the Catholic Church is to be resurrected as an authentic Christian church, it will need to share power with the laity, the majority of its members. Philip Wilson's decision to appeal his conviction might be the result of him exercising his legal right, but I think it comes at the expense of the loss of more moral authority of the Catholic Church, as so many other decisions of the Catholic Bishops have done. Where is the concern for the surviving victims of clerical child sexual abuse in Philip Wilson's decision? Some of these victims have waited a very long time for what they see as a just decision. Now they will have to wait even longer! And where are the voices of the other Australian Catholic Bishops on this decision? Are they just acting like the three wise monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil and do no evil? Pope Francis has at least judged clericalism to be an 'evil' in the Church, but I think it will involve a big shift in power from the clergy to the laity to remove this 'evil' of clericalism that is crippling the Catholic Church and driving many good Christian people away!

Grant Allen | 05 July 2018  

By way of further background and so as to give a sense of my own perspectives on this case, I will set out my observations from my keynote address to the Australian Lawyers Alliance back in February 2017:

‘Sadly, my church is yet to accept that a church leader who is charged with a criminal offence of failing to report or adequately investigate an allegation of child sexual abuse should stand aside from their position of leadership in the Church until the matter is resolved. We have one archbishop who is charged with an offence of failing to report another priest’s offence against a child. Though the archbishop has excused himself from any role in professional standards matters in his Archdiocese, and from the professional standards work of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), he continues to perform all other aspects of his role as Archbishop and as a member of the Permanent Committee of the ACBC.

‘In the archbishop’s defence, I acknowledge that this has been a long drawn out matter and the interpretation of the law is a contested issue because the particular statutory provision, s.316 Crimes Act (NSW), is largely untested and has not been considered by the High Court nor the relevant state Court of Appeal. Furthermore, the charge of March 2015 is posited on the claim that the Archbishop failed to hand on information between 2004 and 2006, more than 33 years after an alleged assault on a child by a priest had occurred, and therefore more than two decades after the victim and his confidants as adults could have brought the matter to the attention of the police. The offending priest had already come to the attention of police as a child sex offender. He had been convicted in 2004 of the past criminal assault on another child victim and had died in 2006.*

‘My own view, based only on the publicly available information, is that the charge is unwarranted and unlikely to be proved. The DPP has clearly viewed this case as a test case on the limits of s.316. You would have thought they could have found a more compelling set of facts for a test case alleging that the person charged had failed recently to report fresh compelling evidence to police when that evidence could not have been provided by any other credible adult witness. But that’s not the point. There is a criminal charge still standing, and presumably the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions is not acting out of some animus to the Catholic Church and its hierarchy, even despite the public disquiet about the Church and its historic handling of these matters, especially in places like Maitland-Newcastle where the criminal priest and the accused bishop were based back in 1976 when the bishop as a newly ordained priest first heard an allegation against the criminal priest and handed on the information to his now deceased parish priest.

‘When charged, the archbishop initially stood aside from his duties as archbishop but after nine months decided to return to office while still standing aside from, and undertaking not to involve himself with, matters in his Archdiocese or on the ACBC concerning professional standards. While the charge remains unresolved, the archbishop remains a member of the ACBC Permanent Committee. This committee is the key instrument of governance for the Catholic Church nationally during those times when the ACBC is not meeting in conference. There is no other major organisation in Australia caring for children which would contemplate electing to its board or leaving in place ex officio (even on restricted duties) a person who stands charged with a criminal offence relating to the failure adequately to report child sexual abuse.’

*See Wilson v Department of Public Prosecutions (NSW) [2016] NSWSC 1458, especially paragraphs 72-89. The untested provision is section 316(1) of the Crimes Act (NSW) which provides: ‘(1) If a person has committed a serious indictable offence and another person who knows or believes that the offence has been committed and that he or she has information which might be of material assistance in securing the apprehension of the offender or the prosecution or conviction of the offender for it fails without reasonable excuse to bring that information to the attention of a member of the Police Force or other appropriate authority, that other person is liable to imprisonment for 2 years.’ The charge relates to the Archbishop’s alleged failure to report information more than 33 years after the alleged offence: ‘Between 12:01 am on 22/04/2004 and 11:59 pm on 07/01/2006 at East Maitland. Whereas [J] in 1971 committed a serious indictable offence, namely, indecent assault of a male, aged 10 years old, Philip Edward WILSON between 22 April 2004 and 7 January 2006 at MAITLAND and elsewhere in the State of New South Wales, believing that [J] committed that offence and knowing that he had information which might be of material assistance in securing the prosecution of [J] for that offence, without reasonable excuse, failed to bring that information to the attention of a member of the New South Wales Police Force.’

Frank Brennan SJ | 05 July 2018  

Can't help recalling how Mary and Joseph protected Jesus, as a child, from the authorities who sought to do Him harm. It is ironic that today so many of the faithful have been driven to turn to Civil Law for protection from the authority of the Church where the children are yet to find safety. Religious freedom is no longer clear when religion deals in oppression of its own.

Patricia Hamilton | 05 July 2018  

Had a good chat with Kieran Gilbert on Skynews this morning. Here is part the report in The Australian: Father Frank Brennan, chief executive of Catholic Social Services Australia, said Wilson should step down "for the good of everyone" after a difficult week for the Catholic Church and victims. "You've been already four or six years before the courts, you're going to have another year or two before the courts," he told Sky News. "You're not do anything to help the Archdiocese of Adelaide, you're not doing anything to help the victims, you're not doing anything to help the Australian community heal after what we've been through with the royal commission." See

Frank Brennan SJ | 05 July 2018  

Is this another of Frank's 'I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him' articles? Me thinks I hear him saying that 'the Archbishop should stand down for the sake of the Church but that he hasn't really done anything wrong'.

Ginger Meggs | 05 July 2018  

There is some ambivalence in Frank Brennan's assessment of the Wilson case: on the one hand he seems to regard him as a victim of a flawed law and perhaps also of a flawed application of that law, while on the other he insists he should resign his Adelaide See. Why should he resign before the appeal process is completed if he has been unjustly convicted? The worldly standards for resignation invoked by Frank may themselves be unjust if they demand resignation in such circumstances. A stronger case for resignation can be made on the gospel ground of scandal: if Wilson failed to honour an undertaking to report to higher authority the victim's complaint, then this moral failure is likely to be a stumbling block to the faith of others. Regardless of the outcome of any appeal, the church must accept, and must be seen to accept, the clear message of the secular court that this society's priority in matters of criminal justice lies in protecting the victims of paedophile priests rather than the good priests who make errors in dealing with such wrongs.

MICHAEL LEAHY | 05 July 2018  

Michael Leahy I agree, a scalp for its own sake is pointless and its almost akin to suggesting: Caiaphas was the one who had told the other Jewish leaders, "It's better that one man should die for the people." That aside, I think this kind of reaction by Church clergy essentially erodes the moral authority of the church. If the Church wants any kind of credibility in the world they need to start acting with some integrity in moral matters. Not only does the obstruction of the truth blacken the Church's name, but it is a denial of the very values they teach. Such virtues as honesty, humility, the confession of sin, repentance - all of which priests teach - integrity demands that they are practised and exemplified by the leaders of the Church. Instead we see them hiding behind lawyers, denying that crimes existed, and going into damage control.

Frank Armstrong | 05 July 2018  

Grant Allen, there is one priest who admitted his guilt as soon as he was arrested in October 1995, and named all his victims, and apologized and willingly accepted his sentence. He is Vincent Ryan. Sadly this is the only one.

William Burston | 05 July 2018  

The Gospels of Matthew 18:6, Luke 17:2 and Mark 9:42 all clearly concur and, unusually, it has to be said, echo each other. They are unequivocal on this matter. To quote Luke, "Causes of falling are sure to come, but alas for the one THROUGH whom they occur! It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone round the neck than to be the downfall of a single one of these little ones. Keep watch on yourselves!" (Jerusalem Bible) There probably should be a degree of circumspection around any clergy within a faith based organisation that hide behind canon law on the one hand but use the instruments of civil law to escape legal and moral accountability. The moral principles at work here are not complex. Archbishop Wilson is not guilty of the crime of paedophilia but he appears to be an accessory to immeasurable suffering that could have been avoided, had he taken action in accordance with Scripture.

SHANE HOWARD | 05 July 2018  

I wrote to reporters requesting a Royal Commission into the Judiciary and Government on child sexual abuse, corruption and Human Rights. No response. Swept under the carpet, as it will threaten the whole edifice and social fabric of 'democracy' and 'rule of law' in Aus. And so continues the bureaucracy nepotism and cartels, institutionalised corruption unchecked by the parliament with an unlimited license while enjoying impunity and spared prosecution! We tired of our Catholic Church being attacked and made the scapegoat! Archbishop Wilson, keep strong! We are praying for you! Don't be the fall guy!

Jackie | 05 July 2018  

Fr Brennan, thank you for the precise and most relevant chronology. We have in common even more than that we grew up in the same Brisbane Catholic parish as children of true marriages as large families. If marriage as true family has an intimacy that calls to account it is because it has an absolute power of authorisation of its helpers in church, society and the state to be able to carry out their responsibilities. But true marriage must respect its helper’s limitations if asking for and accepting their help. It must not accept their help if contrary to the identity and role of marriage as true family. This identity of true family is as prior to church, society and state. The role of marriage as true family is to keep the inseparability of its helpers’ activities. It was impossible for Wilson to keep this inseparability given the reference point given him by other members of families such as Bishop Bill Wright of the Diocese in which Wilson grew up and was ordained. Bishop Wright’s statement about this case of Wilson has it that: “Archbishop Wilson is a long-time friend and colleague of mine, and almost like a member of my family.” Given this reference point and that of non-true marriages misrepresenting themselves as true families in general, it is not surprising that Wilson thought as he wrote to me, dated 19 December 2003, that “… it was not possible, nor would it be advantageous, to combine all the activities” of: [d]ifferent groups … working to prevent child abuse now and in the future and to work to assist those who have been abused in the past.” The reference point given to Wilson as this: “… almost like a member of my family” by Bishop Wright was that of the Catholic Church in general in its holding that Wilson’s status as a consecrated celibate: “… surpasses marriage in excellence”. This surpassing could not allow marriage as true family an absolute power of authorisation. This explains that between the time Wilson wrote to me on 19th December 2003 and our meeting on 4th July 2005 he did not assent to Humanae Vitae, 1968,12 teaching of the inseparability in marriage as true family of union and procreation. Thus, Wilson did not report during this period to police his knowledge that the court has found he had. Only when as acting for my marriage as true family when I made it clear to Wilson that I was exercising its absolute power of authorisation in my email to Wilson of 18th July 2005 in front of many witnesses, after he had earlier disrespected this power by having his assistant give me his assurance in her email to me of 14 July 2005, did he, though very ungracefully, assure me of his “assent to Humanae Vitae” in his email of 19th July 2005. Given Fr Brennan’s chronology is correct, It was too late for Wilson to avoid the risk of been charged with the criminal offence of cover up that his proven inaction prior to my exercising this absolute power resulted from it been impossible for him to avoid. I take it that this was while no marriage as a true family such as our true families had by exercising its absolute power of authorisation made it impossible for Wilson to carry put what he could not but reasonably think were his responsibilities. Oliver Clark, Job’s Trust

Oliver Clark | 05 July 2018  

it seems to me that a man who has the title of Archbishop is not paying attention to the code of cannon law, how can anybody place their trust in this man at all it is very clear that he must resign and try somehow to preserve the integrity of the catholic church. great article fr frank, you have hit the nail on the head.

maryellen flynn | 05 July 2018  

As far as I can see, the one mitigating factor for Archbishop Wilson is that the Vatican, in particular, its Code of Canon Law, must bear a major share of responsibility for this 'unholy mess'. I suggest that Canon Law has usurped the consciences of the episcopate and any clergy taking part in a canon law trial or investigation, compelling them to remain silent (or forgetful) under threat of excommunication. Might the question now become- does blind obedience to canon law by bishops and clergy, including notaries, constitute 'reasonable excuse' for protection of a paedophile as against his/her victim' claims. A reasonable person, in Australia, where statute law and common law sit side by side, would most likely answer- NO. The exclusively European popes of 19th and 20th centuries, obligated to statute (canon) law only, seem to have answered- YES. If so, the saying ' the law is an ass' would apply to church canon law so that it needs to be rewritten from scratch.

John Casey | 06 July 2018  

William Burston, thank you for your input, as follows "Grant Allen, there is one priest who admitted his guilt as soon as he was arrested in October 1995, and named all his victims, and apologized and willingly accepted his sentence. He is Vincent Ryan. Sadly this is the only one." I'm pleased that one priest acted in this way. Well done also Vincent Ryan.

Grant Allen | 06 July 2018  

If Abp Wilson has been paying attention to his faith all these years he would resign his office and then pursue whatever legal means available to challenge the conviction and sentence. At this time he is putting his own status and reputation above that of those he is called to serve - the Church and the people of God. As such he has no credibility as a leader of the Church.

Margaret | 06 July 2018  

We may now all come from different angles but at CCC for eight years we all shared a bond to Jesus’ priesthood. I feel betrayed by priest pedophiles and the bishop’s denials. From day one of this sorry scheme of things I’ve argued little would change until a cleric was found guilty of vicarious liability* (VL). This to me this is what Philip is sentenced for. Eight years ago Pete my 1952 classmate later Judge told me NSW would never get such a conviction. Regrettably the first impulse of priest and bishop as Frank Brennan civil and canon lawyer notes is to appeal their custodial sentence as is their right. But does this fails both the ‘pub’ test and the ‘Jesus’ test? Already 90% of Pilgrim People and 90% of the community find all but a few bishops reprehensible. Clerics in high office profess to be Jesus followers but where is the Prodigal son, ‘Father I’ve sinned, am not worthy to be your son; where is the Good Shepherd protecting the most vulnerable lamb? Denis Hart in testimony to the Victorian Parliamentary Committee of inquiry justified $17 million spent defending Church-clerical-priest offenders and $17 million given by the Melbourne Response to victims. Further the Melbourne Archdiocese is spending $22 million insurance money restoring the arsonist destroyed St James Gardenvale which will forever be a monument to the pedophile Ronald Pickering and at least three of his victims who have suicided. Frank Brennan rues hopefully that Philip as a scapegoat will satisfy the victims - as if the 4,756 victims identified by the Royal Commission are a single block. Frank gratuitously says survivors ‘Want to see at least one serving Bishop punished for the failings of the institution’. The scarifying figures of 572 priests burdening these victims with personal guilt imposed by the theology of original sin taught for generations in Catholic schools. Too many carry the guilt of priests raping them as kids. Equally gratuitously is the ACBC ‘we hope today’s custodial sentence brings some sense of peace and healing’. At last and at least the ACBC acknowledges, ‘Survivors have been vital in helping us learn the lesson of our shameful history of abuse and concealment’. Love and Force mikeParer *vicarious liability refers to a situation where someone is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another person. In a workplace context, an employer can be liable for the acts or omissions of its employees, provided it can be shown that they took place in the course of their employment. In NSW: Employers are vicariously liable, under the respondeat superior doctrine, for negligent acts or omissions by their employees in the course of employment (sometimes referred to as 'scope and course of employment'

Michael Parer | 06 July 2018  

Trust... Why should we trust an institution that the world over has demonstrated that it cares more about protecting its own interests than for its people. Personally, I find it rather insulting that Mr Wilson has been sentenced to 12 months. I don't care that it happened ages ago. I don't care that he was a young priest. At his age I had to make decisions about how to handle a rape that occurred in an organisation I was involved with. Long story short - our care for the victim was held paramount over care for our org, or the man responsible.

chris | 07 July 2018  

HH asserted (4 July) that 'there's one perfectly sufficient reason why the Australian hierarchy hasn't called for the removal of Archbishop Wilson... Dirty hands'. While it might be 'sufficient', even credible, is it demonstrable? Where is you evidence HH?

Ginger Meggs | 07 July 2018  

Fr Brennan has provided perhaps the only public commentary about the Archbishop’s trial that exposes the issues for consideration. It is a shame that he includes a moral judgment that the archbishop should now resign without providing his reasons for that view particularly as the archbishop is not performing any functions in his archdiocese. The decision to resign is not straightforward..if his appeal is successful,the conviction will be quashed or the charge will be dismissed. The archbishop will be not guilty of the charge. In those circumstances the magistrates view of the archbishop’s evidence will have no weight at all. It is not an easy decision to resign, particularly as fr brennan concedes that the appeal may succeed. It is only fair that people advising resignation should state reasons, at the very least, so that the archbishop and his advisers can evaluate those reasons in making such a significant decision

JL Trew | 07 July 2018  

Frank, there is enough evidence from Alan Atkinson's website above (attached to his post) that you are not aware of the full story of Archbishop Wilson's arraignment, which he and others will undoubtedly challenge through the appeals process that is justly available to him, as indeed to any other citizen of the realm. It is therefore improper of any other citizen, be he priest or prime minister, to call for Archbishop Wilson's resignation, no matter how concerned they may well be to conserve the reputation of their as well as your and my Church. Such motivation, as pleasingly sensitive as it undoubtedly also is towards the victims of child abuse whom some of our bishops have ignored in the past, pales in ethical significance and comparability to shutting down the appeals process to a man who may well be innocent of the charges brought against him, even if he is found guilty, so long as he is denied access to the avenues of appeal still available to him. To add to that a clarion call for his resignation is surely to engage in an act of diplomatic expediency and disproportionate response that no one reading my earlier post should advance.

Michael Furtado | 07 July 2018  

Fr Brennan, Jesus was about forgiveness, mercy and compassion. Does that stand for everyone, including Bishop Wilson and even child abusers?

Mark | 07 July 2018  

Decades ago people didn't talk socially or in public about child abuse. Mandatory reporting has only been a well known law in recent years. Your views on Bishop Wilson, Fr Frank Brennan are a massive anachronism.

Mark | 08 July 2018  

This I hope is the last interview I need to do on the matter of Archbishop Wilson dealing with issues of resignation, sentence, and criminal guilt:

Frank Brennan SJ | 09 July 2018  

Having read the various comments am surprised that only one or two said that the defendant pleaded not guilty. The charge hinged on whether or not a conversation, 40 years earlier, had contained information of abuse... by another priest. If true, then the defendant was guilty of concealing child sex abuse. The magistrate convicted him.... but what was his justification for the verdict?. Well.. there was no supporting evidence that the claimed conversation had ever actually taken place. The magistrate seemed to be saying that in his opinion the accuser was being honest and accurate. Hmm?. Well personally my only investigative work was auditing for ten years. I had to learn very quickly to rely less on verbal assurances and focus more on tangible evidence. Important when a particular witness stood to gain some benefit. Criminal law requires that the accused be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt. There was plenty of doubt....and frankly I was pleased that Archbishop Wilson lodged an appeal.

malcolm harris | 09 July 2018  

My interview with Stephen O'Doherty is available at

Frank Brennan SJ | 09 July 2018  

Hear! Hear! Malcolm Harris.

john frawley | 10 July 2018  

I thought that Frank’s article was primarily about why the archbishop should resign rather than about whether or not he was guilty of any civil crime. I thought his argument was that the archbishop was doing nobody - himself, the abused, or the Church - any good by remaining in office but instead was prolonging the pain felt by the abused and the destruction of public trust in the institutional church. That doesn’t seem to how most com mentors see the issue. Does this mean that it is not only the hierarchy that ‘don’t get it’ but also that many others in the Church ‘don’t get it’ either?

Ginger Meggs | 11 July 2018  

In view of Archbishop Wilson’s decision not to submit his resignation pursuant to Canon 401.2 of the Code of Canon Law which provides, ‘A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office’, it is necessary that we all give closer attention to Recommendation 16.7 of the Royal Commission: ‘The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should conduct a national review of the governance and management structures of dioceses and parishes, including in relation to issues of transparency, accountability, consultation and the participation of lay men and women. This review should draw from the approaches to governance of Catholic health, community services and education agencies.’

Frank Brennan SJ | 11 July 2018  

Spot on Ginger Meggs to your final comment above. As to your previous comment ... may I suggest that the 'evidence', at least for clergy 'dirty hands' in general, is in the same place that 'evidence' for child sexual abuse by clergy is: These are secret crimes as in no one sees them happening but so many, including and especially the clergy, know they are happening. Archives of evidence have for the most and are especially now, kept secret by the Vatican. The only way we know they are happening is if victims/survivors come forward. I have 'evidence' in my research as do others researching the topic to which HH is alluding. In the end, it really is all about whether people believe such 'evidence' and/or indeed 'get it' when it comes to clergy sexual activity and its broader links to the whole issue of cover up of all sexual abuse. Furthermore, Richard Sipe has 'evidence': see . See also, . As for video tape or photographic evidence, don't hold your breath.

Stephen de Weger ( | 12 July 2018  

Stephen D. Weger, on the 12th, seems to be saying that the absence of evidence.... is by itself proof that something very bad is going on. An interesting line of argument?... But it all rests upon assumed guilt?. His premise seems to be that there is something different about the motives and behavior of a priest... compared to say, a schoolteacher or doctor. But as a former altar boy myself, must dispute his premise. Firstly... how can the Church cover up?. This question has been ignored during the witch-hunt panic. Personally would have told my parents straight away, a good excuse to get out of a unpaid job. They would have challenged the priest and demanded an explanation. If not satisfied they would have gone to the police. Likewise all the other boys and their parents. The priest's name would have been mud, throughout the parish. The suggestion of cover-ups... rests upon the false impression that the Church is a closed secret society, like a cult. This is not true...half the parents of children attending Catholic schools don't attend mass on Sundays. It is not a closed society... so hiding abuse would not have been possible.

malcolm harris | 12 July 2018  

A senior journalist from Boston was recently reported as saying he'd always had it drummed into him that there are two sides to every story. He then went on to say he did not believe this was now the case - in relation to child abuse. I think I know what he meant - but applying it to the Wilson case would, in my view, be a mistake. Here is another article, by Crikey in 2010, which looked into the ABC's reporting.

Alan Atkinson | 12 July 2018  

But Malcolm there IS evidence that at least some priests have offended, that at least some of the hierarchy covered up, the at least some of the abused were not believed, that at least some who complained were ignored, and that at least some Catholics were influenced by the prevailing culture of the church not to report it to the civil authorities. By relying solely on your own personal experience you are ignoring the reality the surface of which, according to Stephen and HH, has barely been scratched by the Royal Commission.

Ginger Meggs | 12 July 2018  

Malcolm, if you ever get to read my research, you will see that one of the points I am trying to make often is that clerical sexual misconduct is actually very similar to professional misconduct in other professions. Indeed, as one of main theorists, Anson Shupe, says: we really should not be shocked by the existence of such deviance within religious groups: Instead, we should…”expect ‘bad pastors’ to be discovered as frequently as fleecing accountants, seducing professors, crooked cops, pilfering bankers, money-laundering corporate executive officers, and philandering therapists” (Shupe 2007, 7). Shupe goes on to discuss how it is in the nature of institutions to produce misconduct. He also says though, that when it comes to the RCC it has more ability to do something about such behaviour than many other institutions, because of the centrality of government. The only thing it needs is the will to do it. When religious leaders and clergy play up however, there is more scandal because of who they are supposed to be and portray themselves to be. And when those in charge try to cover up misconduct, this makes it all ten times worse, for religious leaders/clergy.

Stephen de Weger ( | 16 July 2018  

This evening, I was asked to comment on Prime Minister Turnbull’s demand that Pope Francis now dismiss Archbishop Wilson. Though advocating a strict separation of Church and State, I agree with the Prime Minister’s action on this occasion as the Archbishop’s failure to resign is impacting not just on church members but also on victims and their loved ones who have left the church, and on the community which is seeking healing in the wake of a five year royal commission. It is also rendering the Church less fit for the receipt of government funds and the public trust for the care of children. Governance at the top of the church needs to be publicly accountable. Listen to my interview with ABC Radio at

The story commences at 0:50. My interview runs from 3:25-12:00

I also spoke briefly on ABC PM expressing a view slightly different from that of Paul Collins. Listen at

Frank Brennan SJ | 19 July 2018  

My homily reflecting on these issues on the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time is available at

Frank Brennan SJ | 23 July 2018  

GM: ... "that at least some Catholics were influenced by the prevailing culture of the church not to report it to the civil authorities." That's absolutely true, but it needs context. Catholics since Vatican II have been browbeaten by trendies without and within to get with the "signs of the times". Back in the heady '60s and '70s, everything sexual was up for grabs. E.g.: there was Richard Neville favourably interviewing three paedophiles on ABC Radio's "Lateline", with impunity. To protests at the program from Fred Nile et al, the ABC chairman Richard Downing replied: “in general, men will sleep with young boys and that’s the sort of thing the community ought to know about”. (The ABC, self-anointed prosecutor of clerical offenders, has never apologised for Neville or Downing.) As late as the early 1990s, NAMBLA was heading up gay pride marches in San Francisco. Moreover, in my brief experience back then as teacher in a Catholic school (1980), the word was that dobbing in suspects to the police was futile - they refused to lay charges, on the basis that a kid's word against that of a teacher would never stack up in court (and perhaps they were right then, as a matter of fact). Again: in those days, psychologists and counsellors were the great guru healers of sexual perversions (if indeed they were perversions, and not just alternative ways of "sexual expression".) Six months of treatment in a Chicago clinic, and Fr Bob would be rehabilitated, no worries. That's what the secular advice was, as reflected in that famous "Boston Globe" article of 1992. The Church should have known better, but it wobbled, questioned its own teachings on the evil of sex abuse, (Pope St Pius V handed abusers over to the secular arm to be executed) and, institutionally, fell in with the times. Big mistake, devastating lives everywhere.

HH | 24 July 2018  

Frank Brennan raises an interesting question about a NSW law not replicated in other states. The question of finding of fact under Section 316 (1) and the question of reasonable doubt are addressed in the Criminal Justice chapter of the Royal Commission into Institutional responses to Child Sex Abuse. The commissioners find that: ‘A significant difficulty with relying on the approaches adopted in section 316(1) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) or section 327 of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) is that it must be proved that the accused had actual knowledge or in fact believed that the abuse occurred. If the accused did not witness the abuse and denies belief of any report or allegation made about it, it will be very difficult to prove the offence.’ And here is a reflection on Section 316 by Norman Gibson Muralis lawyers: ‘In a recent noteworthy case… a client (was) charged pursuant to s316 with having concealed a serious indictable offence. The indictable offence was a serious assault. It was clear from the police case, in which evidence of over twenty witnesses and CCTV footage was tendered that our client did not witness the attack and could not possibly have seen who committed the attack. In hindsight, the police determined through CCTV footage that our client had been seen associating with the persons who had committed the attack both before and some minutes after the attack and drew the inference that therefore he must have “believed” he knew who had committed the attack and knew that that information “might” assist police. The complexity of section 316 was considered at length in that case. We were successful in having him found not guilty on the basis that the Magistrate could never be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that he actually knew or believed anything about the commission of that attack on the basis of the evidence.’

A Francis | 26 July 2018  

This ongoing saga was covered again this evening on the ABC 7.30 program at My comments commence at 6:40

Frank Brennan SJ | 26 July 2018  

An interesting comparison. In England, the former head of the Anglican Church, Lord Carey, one-time Archbishop of Canterbury, is being shamed by his own evidence at an inquiry into how an abusive bishop was dealt with- and he's very sorry in retrospect - but it doesn't look like anyone's saying he should be locked up.

Alan Atkinson | 30 July 2018  

My letter to the NSW Attorney General seeking public access to the judgment in the Philip Wilson case is included in Gerard Henderson's latest Media Watch:

Frank Brennan SJ | 03 August 2018  

Victoria has an Open Courts Act which sets out the duty to publish reasons, judgments or decisions. Section 16 provides, ‘Nothing in this Act limits or otherwise affects any duty of a court or tribunal to publish reasons for judgment or decisions, subject to the court or tribunal editing those reasons to the extent necessary to comply with any order of a court or tribunal or statutory provision restricting the publication of information.’

Frank Brennan SJ | 07 August 2018  

Today Philip Wilson was sentenced to one year’s home detention. He has 28 days in which to appeal his conviction, as is his right. I understand the hurt of the victims who want closure on this matter. But this case was set up as a test case precisely because the law as applied and stretched with a retrospective touch was so untested. Now that Wilson has resigned as archbishop, I think he is perfectly entitled to exercise his right of appeal in relation to a charge for an offence based on evidence of conversations in the 1970s – an offence which was instituted only in 1990, which was recommended for repeal in 1999, and which is already slated for replacement by the NSW Parliament in relation to child sexual offences. Back in February 2017, I told the Australian Lawyers’ Alliance: ‘My own view, based only on the publicly available information, is that the charge is unwarranted and unlikely to be proved. The DPP has clearly viewed this case as a test case on the limits of s.316. You would have thought they could have found a more compelling set of facts for a test case alleging that the person charged had failed recently to report fresh compelling evidence to police when that evidence could not have been provided by any other credible adult witness. But that’s not the point. There is a criminal charge still standing, and presumably the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions is not acting out of some animus to the Catholic Church and its hierarchy, even despite the public disquiet about the Church and its historic handling of these matters, especially in places like Maitland-Newcastle where the criminal priest and the accused bishop were based back in 1976 when the bishop as a newly ordained priest first heard an allegation against the criminal priest and handed on the information to his now deceased parish priest.’

For the offence to be proved, the court needs to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that between 2004 and 2006, Wilson believed or knew that Fletcher had committed an offence against Creigh back in 1971 AND that Wilson believed or knew he had information which he received in 1976 and which might be of material assistance in convicting the already apprehended Fletcher between 2004 and 2006, AND that Wilson had no reasonable excuse for failing to bring that information to the attention of the police who had already charged Fletcher with a series of offences relating to child sexual abuse. There’s a deal of material in the magistrate’s unpublished, relatively unavailable, decision which leave me wondering how he could be convinced of all these elements beyond a reasonable doubt. I can understand how many people, including victims, could think that Wilson was wrong. But the test of criminal guilt is proof beyond reasonable doubt. I think it best that we all wait patiently, now that Wilson has resigned, for the appeal processes to take their course.

Frank Brennan SJ | 14 August 2018  

Is an updated opinion forthcoming, given that the appeal decision did not appear to support your position as to Phillip Wilson's actiona?

Greg Coonan | 07 December 2018  

Critical evidence that would have undermined the Wilson trial was blocked by the court Registrar, Damian Bultitude - see The validity of the blocked evidence was made clear by Triple J hack on 18 Feb' 2019: See As for Ian George not stepping down, see "The Golden Thread of (English) Crown law at the 27 paragraph of Woolmington v. DPP, i.e. "Throughout the web of the English Criminal Law one golden thread is always to be seen, that it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner's guilt..." You and I call this "THE PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY." Ron Medlicott - A Christian lay advocate

Ronald Medlicott | 16 March 2019  

Re: " in July 2012, Wilson refused to cooperate with the NSW police when they were investigating complaints against McAlinden." On the 7th November 2012, Detective Sargeant Ronald Prasad failed to properly follow up information that I had provided concerning the systematic defrauding and murder of welfare recipients. The downstream consequence of that was the deaths of 2,030 welfare recipients reported by Triple J Hack reporter, Shaialah Merdora, on 18th February 2019. In both my web postings and complaints to South Australian Police, I refer to this as "Australia's irrelevant Crimes against Humanity, "The Appropriate Compliance Measures Murders" or, "The Robo Debt Mark 2 Massacre". Check out: As stated in the YouTube video, in AAT appeal 2016/5334, I accused the Federal Parliament of a death toll that, over decades, may now exceed 100,000. Like it or lump it, that figure was not disputed by Elizabeth Ulrick, the Centrelink lawyer representing the Secretary of the Department of Social Services. Then, 2 weeks later at a Senate CARC hearing, the senators were told about the fraud driven suicides but did nothing to stop the death toll (about 700 then) from reaching 2,030 by 31st October 2019.

Ronald Medlicott | 16 March 2019  


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