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No media witch-hunt on Wilson

  • 19 July 2018


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'.  

The concealment matters which eventually led to Wilson's conviction arose not from stories in the media, but from in camera evidence during the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry led by Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor, Margaret Cunneen. Throughout that Inquiry, Wilson's name was carefully suppressed from publication and the details of that part of the Inquiry were subject of a confidential volume of Cunneen's report that still has not been published. 

Atkinson recites in some detail circumstances surrounding an ABC report of May 2010 concerning Archbishop Wilson's knowledge of the activities of paedophile priest James Fletcher. Atkinson repeats a claim by Wilson's local media manager that the ABC sent a series of questions about the issue to Wilson on the morning of its late night broadcast, and that Wilson felt he was being 'ambushed' by the ABC.


"Wilson has the right to appeal, and this has been acknowledged in the media. But meanwhile, it is the bishops