During court proceedings in Australia this week, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide maintained his innocence, denying allegations that he concealed a serious sexual abuse offense allegedly disclosed to him in the 1970s.
The local court in Newcastle heard Wilson’s defense April 11. The archbishop confirmed under oath that he had no memory of being told of sexual abuses involving two altar boys and a fellow priest in the Hunter region of New South Wales.
“From the time this was first brought to my attention last year, I have completely denied the allegation,” said Wilson in March 2015. He took a leave of absence during the initial charges.
“I would again like to express my deep sorrow for the devastating impact of clerical sex abuse victims and their families, and I give assurance that despite the charge, I will continue to do what I can to protect the children in our care in the Archdiocese of Adelaide,” he continued.
Wilson was accused in 2014 of ignoring cases of sexual abuse, and remains the most senior Catholic Church official to be charged with concealing abuse.
He has also been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Wilson said that his current medication is helping his memory, “although it’s not perfect,” according to the Australian Associated Press.
The alleged scandal took place in the 1970s, involving a priest named Fr. Jim Fletcher who served in the Maitland diocese along with Wilson. At the time, Wilson had been ordained a priest for only one year.
The victims of the scandal, Peter Creigh and another altar boy who is unnamed for legal reasons, said they both had told Wilson of their abusive experience with Fletcher.
Creigh allegedly told Wilson in graphic detail of the abuse in 1976. However, Wilson said the conversation never took place, noting, “I don’t think I would have forgotten that.”
The second victim claimed he had told Wilson of the abuse in the confessional in 1976, but Wilson allegedly dismissed the boy with a penance, saying that he was lying. Wilson said he would never tell someone in the confessional that they were untruthful, and that he did not remember having seen the boy at all in 1976.
Fletcher was convicted of nine counts of sexual abuse and was jailed in 2006. He died within the year of a stroke. Wilson said he had no previous suspicions about the integrity of Fletcher’s character.
Wilson additionally told the court that if he had been notified of the scandal, he would have offered pastoral care to the victims and their families, and reported the event to his superiors.
The archbishop has attempted four times to have the case thrown out, which has been denied by local magistrate Robert Stone. If convicted, Wilson would face up to two years in jail.
Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, president of the Australian bishops' conference, said in 2015 that he hopes the matter will be resolved swiftly, noting that the presumption of innocence equally applies to Wilson.
“I urge people not to make any judgement until the charge against Archbishop Wilson has been dealt with by the court,” Hart said.