ROME — In his second major move on sex abuse in just three days, Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide following a conviction earlier this month of failure to report allegations of child sexual abuse.
The Vatican announced Wilson’s resignation July 30, just three days after Francis made a historic move in accepting the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the College of Cardinals after accusations arose that he sexually abused a 16-year-old altar boy.
Earlier this month Wilson received a 12-month detention sentence for failure to report allegations of sexual abuse carried out by Father James Fletcher in the 1970s. In 2006 Fletcher was convicted of nine counts of sexual abuse and subsequently jailed. He died of a stroke within the year.
Wilson, 67, stepped aside from his post as archbishop of Adelaide in May when charges of negligence were first raised. However, he did not resign. In the meantime, Francis appointed Port Pirie Bishop Gregory O’Kelly as Apostolic Administrator of the Adelaide archdiocese.
Though Wilson stressed his intention to launch an appeal after receiving his detention sentence, saying he would step aside only once justice had run its course, he has faced mounting criticism and calls from bishops and public officials for him to step down, including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten.
Australia’s National Council of Priests had also appealed for Pope Francis’s intervention to compel Wilson to step down, arguing that his ability to govern had been “compromised.”
In a statement, Wilson said he hoped and prayed that his decision would be a “catalyst to heal pain and distress” and that it would allow everyone in the Archdiocese of Adelaide, and the victims of Father Jim Fletcher, to move beyond this very difficult time.
“On July 20, I submitted to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, my resignation from the position of Archbishop of Adelaide,” Wilson said.
“Though my resignation was not requested, I made this decision because I have become increasingly worried at the growing level of hurt that my recent conviction has caused within the community. I had hoped to defer this decision until after the appeal process had been completed.”
“However, there is just too much pain and distress being caused by my maintaining the office of Archbishop of Adelaide, especially to the victims of Father Fletcher. I must end this and therefore have decided that my resignation is the only appropriate step to take in the circumstances,” the archbishop said.
In a July 30 statement on Wilson’s resignation, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian bishops’ conference, said the judicial process in Wilson’s case will continue.
Wilson’s resignation, Coleridge said, marks the next step “in a heartbreaking story of people who were sexually abused” and whose lives “were changed forever.” He voiced hope that Wilson’s resignation would bring comfort to the victims, “despite the ongoing pain they bear.”
Coleridge noted that while Wilson has been praised by many for his efforts to support victims of child sexual abuse while the bishop of Wollongong, Adelaide and as president of the bishops’ conference, the prelate decided that his conviction meant he could no longer fulfill his role as archbishop, “because to do so would continue to cause pain and distress to many, especially to survivors.”
In Adelaide, O’Kelly said the resignation will allow for a “time of healing” for all concerned.
“These weeks have been a very testing time for so many, from anyone who has been a victim of abuse in the Church to the archbishop himself,” the bishop said.
“May we not forget the good the archbishop had done in so many ways while at the same time renewing our resolve to care for those who have been hurt by personnel of the Church,” he continued.
O’Kelly will continue as apostolic administrator until Francis appoints a new archbishop.