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Philip Wilson's dead letter day



The show trial of Archbishop Philip Wilson has backfired badly causing hurt to many people, most especially victims of child sexual abuse who thought the law was being rightly applied to put an errant Catholic bishop in the frame.

Philip Wilson, pictured prior to his resignation as Archbishop of AdelaideWilson was charged under a provision of the New South Wales Crimes Act, section 316, which has hardly ever been used. It's a provision which was introduced in 1990. It was reviewed by the New South Wales Law Reform Commission in 1999 and comprehensively trashed. Some commissioners thought the provision should be abolished. Others thought it should be retained.

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.' For all practical purposes, the provision has now been replaced by a much more sensible and workable provision, section 316A, which is designed to deal with failures to report child sexual abuse.

Robert Stone, the magistrate who tried Wilson's case, failed to apply the cumbersome section 316 appropriately. But it's hard to blame Stone too much as the provision is so badly drafted that even a bench of Supreme Court judges would have trouble making sense of it. And Philip Wilson was always the wrong test case for this cumbersome, unworkable legislative provision.

The New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions decided to charge Wilson with a very convoluted offence under section 316. The charge related to the Archbishop's alleged failure to report information more than 33 years after an alleged child sexual assault by a priest Fr Fletcher, and 28 years after it was alleged that the victim Peter Creigh had told Wilson about the assault. This was the charge:

'Between 12:01 am on 22/04/2004 and 11:59 pm on 07/01/2006 at East Maitland. Whereas James Fletcher 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 Fletcher committed that offence and knowing that he had information which might be of material assistance in securing the prosecution of Fletcher for that offence, without reasonable excuse, failed to bring that information to the attention of a member of the New South Wales Police Force.'  By 22 April 2004, Fletcher was already before the courts, having been convicted of historic child sex offences. He was in jail until his death on 7 January 2006.

All these years later, Wilson had no recollection of any such conversation with Creigh, saying that he thought he would have recalled such a graphic conversation if it had occurred. Wilson had legal advice from an expert in the law on child sexual abuse that any information he had would not have been of material assistance to the police all these years later. After all, the police had already detained and charged Fletcher with offences for which they had more than hearsay evidence. Wilson argued that he had reasonable excuse for failing to bring any information to the attention of police.


"Everyone, including the victims of abuse and church officials like Wilson, is entitled to be governed by laws which are clear, sensible and practical. Section 316 is not, and never has been."


The magistrate delivered a 59-page judgment. He messed up the law, and did not even consider some of the key legal questions necessary to secure a conviction. And he took a very dim view of Wilson's credibility. It was the magistrate's adverse findings on Wilson's credibility together with Wilson's earlier refusal to assist with police inquiries and the unpublished adverse findings against him by Commissioner Margaret Cunneen which convinced me that Wilson's continued role as Archbishop of Adelaide was unsustainable.

The magistrate was very favourably impressed by the credibility of Peter Creigh. He was also impressed by the credibility of some other witnesses who said they had told Wilson similar things all those years ago. For example, the magistrate was convinced beyond reasonable doubt that a witness who was another of Fletcher's victims had told Wilson in confession in 1976 about the abuse he suffered.

This penitent was sure it was Wilson in the confessional because he could see his big red lips behind the confessional grille and he recognised Wilson as the priest with the booming voice. In relation to this witness, the magistrate said, 'I find that he gave reliable evidence. This is despite his evidence being contradicted by Mr Creigh's evidence that the accused did not have a distinctive voice or very red lips.' The magistrate resolved this conflict of evidence by observing that the penitent witness said Wilson 'wasn't using a "booming voice" in the confessional'. The magistrate was convinced beyond reasonable doubt saying, 'I find that a conversation occurred in the confession box in late 1976 as recounted by (the witness) in his testimony in the court and the accused heard the account.'

The magistrate's decision was riddled with these sorts of errors.

Members of the public have generally been unable to assess the magistrate's judgment because the court made it available only at the Newcastle court registry. The only way you could read it was to travel to Newcastle and you were not permitted to copy any part of it. You could only take notes. I did that and wrote to the New South Wales Attorney General more than four months ago with a couple of suggested reforms:

First, when the court delivers a judgment which contains material which might identify particular persons entitled not to have their identities published, the court should provide a means whereby interested persons might gain access to a redacted copy of the judgment in the same way as they would have access to any other judgment of the Magistrates Court, while ensuring the anonymity of all persons entitled to a suppression order.

Second, when the court delivers a judgment (especially when outside Sydney) which is said to be a 'world first' and 'of international significance', the court should ensure that the judgment is accessible not just to those media outlets and interest groups with the resources or proximity to the local court where the decision is delivered. At the very least, a copy of the judgment should be made available in Sydney.

My letter did not even warrant an acknowledgment from the Hon. Mark Speakman SC MP. The reforms have not been instituted.

Like Stone, the appeal judge, Judge Roy Ellis found: 'Creigh was an honest witness doing his best to recall events in 1976'. Wilson received a much more sympathetic hearing on his appeal to Ellis of the District Court. Unlike Stone, Ellis said, 'I have closely considered the evidence of the Appellant (Wilson) and concluded that there is no legitimate basis to reject his evidence. In conjunction with the other evidence in the case the evidence of the appellant raises a reasonable doubt in my mind that in 2004-6 the appellant had a memory of a conversation in 1976 in which Mr Peter Creigh told him that James Fletcher had indecently assaulted him.' In relation to any 1976 conversation between Creigh and Wilson, Ellis concluded, 'I am not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Philip Wilson had a memory of it in 2004-6'. Even if such a conversation had taken place and even if Wilson did have a memory of it three decades later, Ellis also had 'a reasonable doubt as to whether (Wilson) formed any belief, be it belief or disbelief, as to the truth or otherwise of the allegation'.

There is already talk of further appeals. But no appeal court hereafter has any power to interfere with Ellis' findings on the credibility of the witnesses including Wilson. Let's hope emotions can settle. Law reformers should do their work. Section 316 should be repealed or comprehensively overhauled. Wilson has done the right thing and resigned as Archbishop of Adelaide. He should be left in peace. As I said almost two years ago in my address to the Australian Lawyers Alliance, the charge was unwarranted and unlikely to be proved. Everyone, including the victims of abuse and church officials like Wilson, is entitled to be governed by laws which are clear, sensible and practical. Section 316 is not, and never has been.

The DPP would be well advised to leave section 316 out of all future proceedings. The Wilson show trial on section 316 should not be repeated. And I would see little point in the DPP appealing the District Court decision. Section 316 is a dead letter, and it causes nothing but trouble to everyone involved. The road to truth, justice and healing will not be found via any more prosecutions under the derelict section 316. I hope and pray that Peter Creigh and Philip Wilson might one day be reconciled. In this instance, the processes of the criminal law have inflicted great harm on each of them.



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


Main image: Philip Wilson, pictured prior to his resignation as Archbishop of Adelaide



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



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In relation to the credibility of Philip Wilson as to whether Peter Creigh had ever spoken to him about Fletcher’s abuse, whether he remembered the conversation, and whether he knew or believed that Creigh had been sexually assaulted by Fletcher, Judge Ellis parted company completely from Magistrate Stone who thought Wilson was dissembling in parts of his evidence. If anything, Judge Ellis found Wilson to be scrupulously honest. He said:

‘The appellant gave evidence that if anything so graphic had been said to him that he didn’t think he could have forgotten it. This evidence was relied on by the Magistrate because it was clearly very honest and forthright. The appellant did not attempt to prevaricate on this point at all. The appellant did not attempt to blacken the name of Mr. Peter Creigh alleging he was a liar. In fact, he said he had always had a good relationship with Mr. Peter Creigh and that nothing had changed. In summary he did not think that Mr. Peter Creigh would give evidence knowing it to be false. Honesty of this type is generally regarded as an indication of overall honesty.

‘Philip Wilson while suffering from early Alzheimer’s was clearly still an intelligent and reasonably articulate witness. It seems unlikely that such a person might not have considered, before giving evidence and against a background of not previously having said anything and therefore not being committed to maintaining a particular story or version, that if they were prepared to lie that the easiest approach would be to either deny the alleged 1976 conversation or to simply say “ well like most adults in the mid-1970s I didn’t believe that a priest would sexually molest a young boy as alleged”. Claiming disbelief would have been just about impossible to realistically challenge, would have been easy to say and maintain in cross-examination.

‘Given that the Crown has to prove that the appellant believed that Mr. Peter Creigh had been indecently assaulted by James Fletcher, a very believable claim of disbelief given community attitudes in 1976 and even to some degree in 2004, if accepted, would have provided a defence meaning the Crown would not be able to prove an essential element of a Section 316(1) offence. It is clear from his evidence that the appellant did, quite reasonably, understand the nature of the charge he was facing and the fact that he did not avail himself of a potential “disbelief” escape clause is once again supportive of his honesty as a witness.’

Frank Brennan | 06 December 2018  

Dear me Frank, you were quick to call for his resignation a few months back and now you are saying he should be left in peace. The reality is he probably should get his job back. Be reinstated. The reported abuse in confession should have been ruled inadmissible because of the confessional seal. That hasnt been abolished under canon law.And realistically how could the confessor determine the age of the penitent? The magistrate may have got it wrong. The amended 316A should delete the words "or reasonably ought to know" as you either know or you dont. Otherwise its speculative. In any event despite the magistrate forming a dim view of Archbishop PW credit, considering the time lapse and his age, impressions shouldnt be grounds for conviction. The original S 316 is a general provision about all serious indictable offences and is worthy of retention.

Frank Armstrong | 06 December 2018  

Justice Ellis is clearly a true servant of the law. This was always an unjustified witch hunt driven by certain elements in the police force and DPP with a questionable agenda. I hope some have the courage to offer the Archbishop an apology for the unnecessary demolition of his character. He was not the criminal. The criminal was already indicted and jailed leaving the Church and some of its Bishops to suffer the public denigration for his actions. Seems like Section 316 is one of the back paddocks where the asses are let out to graze.

john frawley | 06 December 2018  

'Show trial' are not the words that I would have expected from someone like Frank Brennan. Sounds more like something that Andrew Bolt or the like would use. By using them Frank is questioning the motives of those who decided to prosecute. If he wants to do that, then let him name names, provide evidence, and argue the case.

Ginger Meggs | 07 December 2018  

A ‘test case’ becomes a ‘show trial’ when the media takes over as they did in this case, turning it into an international cause celebre. His Honour Judge Ellis who was a very experienced prosecutor of child sexual abuse cases and now a well established judge in the field was right to go out of his way and observe at the outset of his judgment: ‘[I]t is important to appreciate that the media’s interest in the prosecution of institutional sexual abuse or its cover up should not be permitted to undermine judicial independence and the rule of law. The potential for media pressure to impact judicial independence may be subtle or indeed subversive in the sense that it is the elephant in the room that no one sees or acknowledges or wants to see or acknowledge. This is not a criticism of the media but rather a recognition that intended or not, the mere presence of large numbers of members of the media from all around Australia and indeed potentially the western world carries with it an undoubted pressure on the Court. ‘This may amount to perceived pressure for a Court to reach a conclusion which seems to be consistent with the direction of public opinion, rather than being consistent with the rule of law that requires a court to hand down individual justice in its decision making process. In practice complying with legal principles may well result in a verdict that is perhaps inconsistent with media or community expectations given more recent trends in public and media opinions. But if the verdict is a true representation of justice in the individual case then it is community or media expectations that must be dashed not the hopes of an individual that he or she will receive a fair trial and that the verdict will provide justice in their case in accordance with legal principles that operate in Australia.’ His Honour was clearly wanting to clear away some of the debris at the court door and get on with the real task of weighing the evidence and determining the law. If the case had not been turned into a show trial, the judge would have had no reason to make these remarks. He wrote of his ‘experience with victims over many years as a Crown Prosecutor and in hearing victims read their victim impact statements as a Judicial Officer over the last fifteen years has indelibly imprinted on my mind the huge psychological consequences for victims’. But he was clearly troubled by how the case had been turned into a show trial. I think I was justified in using the term.

Frank Brennan SJ | 07 December 2018  

There was a show trial - a trial designed to show the virtuous feelings of the guardians of the law and their sensitivity to public opinion. This is demonstrated by the necessity to search around to find a very dicey and underused section of the NSW Crimes Act under which to charge Archbishop Wilson. The appeal against the verdict was well substantiated, and the result represents a victory for the rule of law. As Frank says, though, it's a sad victory, accompanied not by banners and joyful cries of adulation, but by the tears and pleas of the victims. In this case, the victims are victims of knee jerk populism, which misled them and aggravated the pain of their original wounds. What's the lesson? I think it's that the law is only helpful when it's clear, rational and based in the head and not the bowels. And we need to understand better the purpose of the law and the value of the rule of law.

Joan Seymour | 07 December 2018  

The grounds for the upholding of Philip Wilson’s appeal, as reported, fail to draw attention to what follows from his reply to my question in his letter, dated 19th December 2003, that: “… it would not be possible, nor would it be advantageous to combine all the activities [of d]ifferent groups within the Church and in society … working to prevent child abuse … and to work to assist those who have been abused in the past.” If it is understood that these “groups” are acting as helpers of families, it follows that these groups are only acting in roles. The activities of these roles in procreation service provision in which members of families are enrolled are required to be authorised by family members. No evidence is reported that Wilson was authorised by family members to report complaints of abuse of these families’ members to public authority. Purported consecrated celibates have been groomed for abuse as vulnerable family members (that many act out) by greedy 'familist' purported validly ordained and purported family members of valid marriages neither of whom promise to live the promise of poverty made by consecrated celibates. This grooming is by falsely representing an identity of a higher vocation than marriage attached to the roles of consecrated celibates. Both church authorities and public authorities were drawn into complicity in a duopsony of ‘buying’ the cheap labour of these purported consecrated celibates by those practicing familyism. The task now is to use reason to see how devotion to “The Immaculate Conception” message at Lourdes in 1858 confirming this dogma taught four years earlier by Pope Pius 1X and Vatican Council 1 was or became unbalanced lacking at that time a basis in reason. The scientific results in 1964 from the unity lived by the Billings/Catterinich and Clark/Elweys pairings of truly married and truly ordained provided the required balancing of this devotion with reason. This balance was noted four years later in HV, 1968, 12 in Paul V1 stating his belief that: “the men of our day are particularly capable of seizing the deeply reasonable and human character of this fundamental principle” that the title of HV, 12 has as: “Two Inseparable Aspects: Union and Procreation”, of Marriage. Oliver Clark, Job's Trust

Oliver Clark | 07 December 2018  

Frank, I recognise the restitution you offer in returning here to cover the last vestiges of +Philip Wilson's (as it now turns out to have been) show trial. The Archbishop deserves a public apology, especially from those in these columns once only too ready to bay for his public stoning and execution. Among those, I'm forced to regrettably say, was you. The least we can now do is to restore Archbishop Wilson to his former position in charge of Adelaide's Catholics, lest it now be said that his Alzheimer's prevents him from resuming it or, worse, that it was to protect the Church that his hand was forced in this disgraceful matter. Meanwhile, I propose a vote of thanks for Alan Atkinson, the retired ABC journalist who, from a position of Anglican distance and neutrality, was concerned enough, and accordingly moved in conscience and professionalism, to appeal the matter in the court of ES opinion. Immense gratitude for your commitment to just causes, Alan. And may your pen long serve to protect the innocent and the righteous when opinionated others are only too willing to join in feeding frenzies! I await the torrent of apologies now owed to Archbishop Wilson.

Michael Furtado | 07 December 2018  

Fascinating analysis, reflecting badly on several parts of the legal system even if the appeal process provided a corrective. The law needs to be accountable for its outcomes - user feedback is essential Mr Attorney. Answer Frank's submission!

Greg San Miguel | 07 December 2018  

Archbishop Wilson was set up to answer for the Church failings, and the media, magistrate, victims advocates, perhaps victims themselves were determined to punish him whether or not he had done anything culpable. It’s a distressing reminder that individual rights are flung aside by the interest groups in order to get ‘a scalp’. This is not the first time the legal process has so trampled the human rights of a priest who had not offended. The let’s anihilate the Catholic Church approach of journalists and others is a reminder of earlier campaigns which wrought terrible outcomes for society.

Rosemary Sheehan | 07 December 2018  

Enough with legalisms. What did the Bishop do to investigate any such complaints?

Lee Boldeman | 07 December 2018  

The magistrate’s assessment of the witnesses was based on his having seen and heard them giving evidence. Did the appeal judge rehear the evidence or merely read the transcript? If the latter it would be a bit presumptuous to overturn the magistrate’s findings on their veracity. There’s an uneasy feeling the appeal decision might have gone off the rails on that question at least.

OldG | 07 December 2018  

The prosecutors should take Judge Ellis’ decision to an appellate court, if necessary, the highest in the land, to confirm that the section is bad law. Bishop Wilson should accede to this out of love for those survivors who doubt whether any cover-up can be made accountable. He can’t be restored to his previous ecclesiastical position because of Alzheimer’s but, in recognition of his green martyrdom, he should be invited to Rome for consolation by and a photo op with the Pope, before a pleasant retirement helping in the parishes by hearing confessions and celebrating masses.

roy chen yee | 07 December 2018  

Intriguing. A throwback to the old days of Popery. Thanks for your explanation, though I too would have tended to avoid the show-trial word.

Frank | 08 December 2018  

Wilson’s position prior to the charge period (4/04-1/06) in his reply to my question in his letter of 19/12/03, consistent with Humanae Vitae, 1968, 12 to which he explicitly assented in his email to me of 19/7/05, was that: “… it would not be possible, nor would it be advantageous to combine all the activities [of d]ifferent groups within the Church and in society … working to prevent child abuse … and to work to assist those who have been abused in the past.” Those in authority roles as helpers of families in Church and society had their rights sustained by Wilson as authorised by my question to not have status ascribed to their roles. This authorisation is evident in the reciprocity of Wilson’s reply in responding to my need with the gift of making my family aware of its identity status as keeping the equality and inseparability of these authorities’ rights in their roles in procreation service provision. It is this reciprocity that successfully opposes duopsony in anti-competitive product differentiation by these authorities in this provision when the family as of a valid natural marriage, as ours is, exercises its absolute power of authorisation. Oliver Clark, Job’s Trust

Oliver Clark | 08 December 2018  

i now feel that those perpetrators of this terrible crime towards children should be held accountable for the pain and hurt and the scarring for life of young innocent children, which ever way punishment comes.

maryellen flynn | 08 December 2018  

Echoing Frank A's comments, it also concerns me that you were all-but calling Wilson guilty last year (see 'Prayers for Peter Creigh and Philip Wilson' 23 July 2018) and calling for his resignation. In the context of this analysis, Wilson seeking to hold on to his job seems more justified: he believed he was innocent and it was only a matter of time before this 'dead letter' law was found wanting. The fact that Wilson did eventually resign, attests to his character because he did not want to cause any more distress by staying. I don't think anyone with imagination and compassion would compare what Wilson's been through with CSA, but neither should they underestimate 3 years of this black cloud hanging over a good man. It is particularly disappointing when 'friends' -- priests in Adelaide, fellow bishops and learned commentators -- effectively condemned him before a clearly flawed process ran its course.

Faz | 08 December 2018  

There have been many letters passing backwards and forwards between Archbishop Philip Wilson and me since Commissioner Margaret Cunneen concluded her commission of inquiry in 2014 with one volume of her findings largely in relation to Wilson being withheld from publication until any prosecutions were completed. I’ve never said anything public about his standing aside (whether temporarily or permanently) which I haven’t first communicated to him privately. I thought it was a serious mistake for him as an archbishop to refuse to answer police questions back in 2012. That was the start of his serious trouble. Once he was charged with a criminal offence of failing to disclose information about child sexual abuse, I urged him to step aside from all duties as archbishop until the case and any appeals had been finalised. I thought it was a serious mistake for him then to return to episcopal duties three years ago when the case was still unresolved. After all much of the delay was because he and his legal team had pursued every possible legal appeal before the case was actually tried by the magistrate. Once he was convicted of the offence, I thought he had no option but to resign as archbishop, especially as he had relied in part on his Alzheimer’s Disease as an explanation of any failure to remember information provided in the past. Calling for him to resign on 4 July 2018, I wrote: ‘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.’ See https://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=55991. The appeal judge has taken a more benign view of Wilson’s credibility than did the magistrate. He was not convinced beyond reasonable doubt that Wilson heard, remembered and knew. But I still think it was inconceivable that Wilson could conduct this appeal and any future appeals while still archbishop of Adelaide. I still think it best that he resigned. Even with the benefit of hindsight I still think he should have resigned quite some time ago, and at the very latest when he was convicted of this offence and sentenced to home detention. I appreciate the view of those who think that a bishop need not resign even if convicted of a criminal offence of failing to report child sexual abuse until all appeals have been exhausted. I disagree, and I think for the best of reasons. That’s why it’s important that future charges be based on laws more coherent and just than the completely discredited section 316.

Frank Brennan SJ | 08 December 2018  

Bravo, Michael Furtado! I too await the torrent of apologies owed the Archbishop particularly in these pages.

john frawley | 08 December 2018  

Let’s be Frank, If only you would use your time to forensically examine Canon Law with the same ferocity. Canon Law fails to protect children. Canon Law protects the Catholic Church.

Joolsmagools® | 09 December 2018  

Yes, kudos to Abp Wilson for his selfless act of resigning to prevent further harm to the Church. And especially for remaining silent whilst ignorant people were calling for his resignation, whilst he was waiting for the Pope to accept it. It was bad enough that prominent fellow Catholics called for his resignation publicly, rather than speaking to him privately if they thought it was any of their business. But even the Prime Minister and opposition leader and other politicians called for his resignation, ignoring the wall of separation between Church and State. The State does not decide who gets leadership jobs in the Church! And will he now be reinstated? Fascinating to compare this case with that of High Court Justice Lionel Murphy, who whilst in office was convicted of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice - a broadly similar type of offence to Abp Wilson's alleged offence but much more serious. He remained in office, making rulings, until his death, regardless of the progress of his charge, trial, conviction, his appeal and eventual acquital at a second trial. Now with all due respect to the Catholics of the fine city of Adelaide, the leader of Australia's second smallest archdiocese is in a much less powerful position than one of the seven judges of our highest court. Yet Abp Wilson resigned, Murphy did not.

Peter K | 09 December 2018  

The Wilson trial from original charges appeals to the Supreme Court on the legality of the original charges, then the hearings before Magistrate Stone and Judge Ellis have now lead us to this point, and I note that the DPP may still pursue the avenue of appeal. Sadly, what has been missed from this saga is that from an outside point of view both survivors their families and supporters on one side, and on the other, those who chose the path of defence of Phillip Wilson, and the Catholic Church lost sight perhaps of the simple solutions that were available. It may seem idealistic to look at this matter from a spiritual viewpoint, but perhaps if Phillip Wilson had quietly resigned when these matters first came forward without fighting his defence ( which even with the appeal decision ) does not simply mean that the conflicting memories and viewpoints in this saga are inherently false. Eureka Street is a Jesuit Media masthead. Louis J Cameli writing in "America The Jesuit Review" in an article " Finding Hope and Healing in the face of the Abuse Crisis" wrote the following. "Another path, I believe, can address the anger at a deeper level and actually begin to facilitate some healing. As I describe this path, it may seem idealistic or unrealistic or simply out of reach. ....." “This past September, retired Auxiliary Bishop Robert Morneau of Green Bay wrote to his bishop with a request to be removed from public ministry because in 1979 he had failed to report the abuse of a minor. He explained: “As a result, this priest was able to abuse several years later... I intend to spend my time in prayer for all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and I will do corporal works of mercy in reparation for what I failed to do.” Bishop Morneau’s request was granted.” When Pope Francis speaks to the presidents of bishops’ conferences throughout the world in February, he may feel the need to warn them, cajole them and perhaps even threaten them with sanctions if they have failed. I hope he also calls them and their brothers to something else. I hope that he summons them, if they have failed, to come forward, confess what they have done or failed to do, seek forgiveness and make reparation as best they can, even as they recognize that they will need to live with the aftermath. I hope that he uses Bishop Morneau as an example of how we can move forward. Out of our present pain, I am convinced we can find hope." Issues of guilt-innocence or memory aside the best thing that Phillip Wilson could do now is to follow Bishop Morneau's example. The complexities of vicarious liability and the small costs in financial reparations are not worth the on-going damage that this tragic saga has revealed. Given AB Wilsons early stage Alzheimers calling into question the accuracy of his memory, and the toll this saga has had directly on the victims of Fletcher and their families and indirectly on other survivors and also the good people in the pews, as well as those within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church who want to find a ways forward and move away from damage control minimisation and obscurantism then following Bishops Morneau's example may be an option for a number of senior leaders within the Church. Not all survivors are anti-church, indeed a number remain within institutional faith communities, but as an act of contrition for survivors to see leaders within institutions actually admit to their complicity in hiding minimising and obscuring criminal acts of abuse against children and then resigning rather than fighting a rearguard action of defence costing the institution hugely in loss of reputation, not to mention the collateral damage of retraumatisation of survivors and their families, and putting themselves first, will not help the division and healing. The lessons learnt in this case are not in my view the legal technicalities of Sec 316(1) of the NSW Criminal Code but that when put to the test the hierarchy chose a long damaging legal fight that left no winners. Advent is a time to look forward to a new beginning. Perhaps given this "crisis" is likely to continue for decades the learnings from both the Royal Commission and the voices of survivors and their families, can so move the hierarchy of the Institutions that true contrition can be shown. Richie ( Co-Founder "Survivors and Friends Foundation). www.americamagazine.org Article. "Finding hope and healing in the face of the Abuse Crisis"

Richie | 09 December 2018  

Richie. Your comment put me in mind of the parable of the talents in the new Testament, a parable which to me has always meant that when I reach the High Court presided over by the Supreme Judge of all judges I am to be judged not so much on what I did in this life but more so on what I failed to do. Sadly, this latter failure far outweighs the former and I suspect that applies to most of we human beings who, through our flawed, innate selfishness, fail to use to the full the talents the Creator gave us.

john frawley | 09 December 2018  

Richie, you miss the point that Able Wilson did NOT choose this fight. Once you are charged you are compelled to plead guilty or not guilty. Those who ran this witch hunt would not have been satisfied with his resignation, they wanted him gaoled. Should he have pleaded guilty to a crime he did not commit,and be punished for it, simply to make himself a martyr for crimes committed by others? And confirm the popular myth that all Catholics are child abusers?

Peter K | 10 December 2018  

Thanks Richie. I agree with you. I know that Father Wilson was approached back in the early eighties by a member of my family in relation to an abuse that occurred to another family member. This is unrelated to Jim Fletcher and was in relation to a Marist Brother. He may have forgotten that too. At the end of the day only Wilson knows the real truth and winning legal battles is only one level. We all have to live with God at the end of each day. As a survivor I still try to practice my faith. I often feel traumatised when I go into a church. Sometimes I leave but other times I try to pray for all of us. And God gives me peace. I thought what you said was beautiful in relation to bishops and priests coming forward and humbly admitting that they got it wrong. Healing can come when there is such humility for all of us.

Ann | 10 December 2018  

Any lawyer worth his salt knew that the decision convicting Archbishop Wilson was nonsense. The essential facts of the prosecution case against Wilson were inherently absurd. Creigh and Wilson were being asked to accurately recall an unrecorded conversation that had occurred some 40 years ago. It was also absurd to charge Wilson with failing to a report that conversation when Creigh, himself, had not reported the assault allegations to the police whilst the alleged perpetrator was still alive. The ONLY person who could have materially assisted the police to prosecute Father Fletcher was Mr Creigh. If Archbishop Wilson had not been a member of the Catholic clergy, he would not have been charged. Thank God for Judge Roy Ellis. There at least is a person who honours his oath of office and stood up against the howling mob. Miller’s The Crucible, the play about the Salem witch hunts of the late 17th Century, was an allegory for the McCarthyist hysteria of 1950s America, when the lives of many innocent men and women were ruined. Miller’s metaphor would be as apt, perhaps more apt, for present-day Australia. It is too bad that people forget history and literature.

Mike Waugh | 10 December 2018  

Let’s not forget the only reason this to-and-froing of opinion and backtracking is occurring because religious men raped and abused children. Jesus was innocent too but was still crucified. The archbishop doesn’t deserve to be branded a martyr. He doesn’t deserve jail but he was still complacent.

Aurelius | 11 December 2018  

To charge a priest because he is a priest is an outrage. It must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. One cannot be mealy-mouthed about it. It is our bounden duty to do so, not only as Christians, but also as citizens privileged to live under the rule of law. It is a form of self-preservation. I would commend the lyrics of Christy Moore’s Yellow Triangle. The crimes of other people are irrelevant.

Michael Waugh | 11 December 2018  

Yes Michael, if Wilson was, in fact, charged because he was a priest, that would have been an outrage. But he wasn't. And the view you have arrived at is the very reason why I challenged Frank Brennan's inappropriate and, I would say, irresponsible use of the phrase 'show trial'. Frank's definition ('when the media takes over') is a far cry from common usage of the term as is obvious if one does a quick online search of the phrase. For example: 'a trial (as of political opponents) in which the verdict is rigged and a public confession is often extracted', 'a trial organised by a government in order to have an effect on public opinion and reduce political opposition, and not in order to find the truth', and so on. In this case the law may have been poorly expressed, the evidence presented may have been thin, the argument put by the prosecution may have been weak, the decision of the magistrate may have been faulty, (and all that seems to me to be what the Appeals court has said), but it was not a show trial and Wilson was not tried for being a priest. And most importantly, the quashing of the conviction of Wilson has not absolved the Church and its hierarchy from the guilt of its institutionalised cover up of long-term and wide-spread abuse of trust. If anyone thinks that this Appeals court decision has got the Church, as distinct from Wilson, off the hook, they are sadly mistaken.

Ginger Meggs | 12 December 2018  

Speaking as a layman have to say that was surprised by Peter Creigh's words, following the appeal verdict. He said that the decision of Judge Ellis had cut him to the bone (or words to that effect) and he wondered what he could do now to obtain justice?. Yet this man accused a priest of sexual molestation, and the police charged the accused, a conviction and imprisonment followed. Dare I mention the twenty or so years Creigh took to report the crime. Contrast that with say, a young woman who is raped, after a night at a disco. She reports him the next day and sees the guy sent to prison. But does she then lament a lack of justice?. No... she feels that justice has been done. So what does Creigh really mean when he talks about justice?.

malcolm harris | 12 December 2018  

Thank you for your coverage of this. 1. If it wasn't a show trial why were Crown Prosecutors used to prosecute in front of magistrates? That is a very rare occurrence in NSW. 2. Judge Ellis is very impressive, independent and fair minded. 3. The unavailability of the magistrate's reasons, except on the very limited basis described is unacceptable. 4. The Crown baying for blood on sentence was unedifying to put it mildly.

Bob | 12 December 2018  

Ginger, If Archbishop Wilson had been plain Mr Wilson, do you think he would have been charged? Do you not think the Archbishop was charged because he was an archbishop ? Do you seriously think that, on the same facts, a non-clerical person would have been charged ? I really find it impossible to believe that the laying of the charge was not motivated by hatred of the Church's clergy. I find it impossible to believe the charge was based on unbiased legal reasoning.

Michael Waugh | 12 December 2018  

Mike Waugh is spot on about this travesty of an attack upon a now innocent man and I agree with his perceived passion and Philip Wilson deserves unqualified apologies from many quarters. I've become quite depressed recently by the way certain church figures have become the whipping boys for all that is ill in the churches. It's an abomination and it's coming down, unlike any trial where crime is involved, one person's word against another. Real evidence is not necessary. That can mean who is better at telling a tale or as the Appeal court found, the deficiency in memory which is all too real. It seems bizarre that people are expected to have a perfect memory from 40 years ago. I'm alarmed that on twitter and other social media outlets that well known media faces from all sectors have made snide remarks over this case as they are about a current controversy. Not one single one seems to believe that they too are just one accusation away from being destroyed by an accusation, real or imagined. Accusation has become an instrument to destroy people as 2 NSW politicians have now found. And once the destruction is complete, the media charabanc moves on looking for it's next target not caring who about the trail of destruction it leaves in it's wake. Mr Wilson should now be left in peace. I never thought he should resign because if he did it demonstrates that the accusation is enough. But he's human.

Eric Hardcastle | 13 December 2018  

Ginger, I imagine few would think that the Appeals Court decision has 'got the Church off the hook', especially as so much media coverage and commentary seems intent on portraying the Church exclusively in a negative light; indeed, as society's arch-enemy.

John | 13 December 2018  

Joolsmagools@ on the 9th December, says that Canon law fails to protect children, and that it only protects the Church. Well don't know whether that is fair comment?. But do know that we all have access to the laws of the land. Meaning that, even as a kid, understood that any offence could be reported to the police. Whether it was theft, or physical assault, or sexual assault. Incidentally I have an advantage over virtually all of you. Because whilst in my twenties I foolishly volunteered for a police line-up. It made an indelible impression on my memory. Because they brought in a 12 year old boy who had fled from an orphanage. He had been picked up by a guy (a chef) who offered him a bed for the night. The police detective told us that the boy had been sodomized and ran away. A woman, a complete stranger, saw the kid's distress and took him to the police station. The perpetrator was identified and charged. My point is this. The woman saw what I saw....an obviously traumatized child. So do any of you really think that a priest (or anybody) could do that to a child, and the parents fail to see the child's distress? No, I don't think so.

malcolm harris | 13 December 2018  

So the Royal Commission got it all wrong Malcolm?

Ginger Meggs | 13 December 2018  

To some extent I see a parallel between Archbishop Wilson's trial and conviction before the magistrate to the famous trial and execution of James Stewart of the Glen in 18th Century Scotland. James of the Glen always maintained his innocence. After the acquittal we all need to leave Wilson alone. A dreadfully inaccurate moral bludgeon was used on him. We need to move on. 'Nuf said! Finito!

Edward Fido | 14 December 2018  

Having very thoroughly rubbished every aspect of the legal technicalities of this trial, I suppose there still remains the trifling question of whether or not Wilson did the wrong thing, a question that Frank Brennan seems extremely keen to ignore.

Lionel Johnson | 15 December 2018  

Michael Waugh, if Archbishop Wilson were a mere "Mr Wilson", he wouldn't have been in the same position of power/privilege to move a paedophile priest from one place to another, or to have the potential knowledge of such abuse and therefore the potential to do something about it.

Aurelius | 20 December 2018  

The office of the DPP on 20 December 2018 said it had "no right of appeal against the dismissal of a charge in these circumstances". "An appeal can only be made on errors of law," the ODPP said in a statement. "After careful consideration, it was decided that there were no reasonable prospects of success of appeal on errors of law." This is the end of a very unfortunate legal saga. Let's hope there is some prospect of truth, justice and healing from here on for both Peter Creigh and Philip Wilson. And if the NSW Attorney General is really wanting to help in this fraught situation, he could consider the reforms proposed to him in my letter of 27 July 2018.

Frank Brennan SJ | 20 December 2018  

Aurelius , at the time of the alleged conversation in 1976, Wilson was a 25 year old assistant priest. Nobody has ever alleged he moved a paedophile priest anywhere. Like the prosecution, you assume guilt because he is a priest. His guilt is more assured because he became an archbishop. You prove the point I am making.

Michael Waugh | 22 December 2018  

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