ADELAIDE, Australia (CNS) — Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide has been charged with concealing child abuse by a priest, but maintained he is innocent of violating the law.
Charges were filed March 17 by New South Wales Police Force after an investigation by a team of detectives set up specifically to investigate allegations of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle in the 1970s by Father Jim Fletcher.
The charge stems from 1976, when the archbishop was a young priest working in the diocese.
“I am disappointed to have been notified by the NSW Police that it has decided to file a charge in respect to this matter,” Archbishop Wilson, 64, said in a statement.
He said he planned to “vigorously defend my innocence” and would take a leave of absence to “consult with a wide range of people” in response to the charge.
The archbishop explained that he had cooperated during hearings of the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse. He also expressed “my deep sorrow for the devastating impact of clerical sex abuse on victims and their families.”
Archbishop Wilson was scheduled to appear in a Newcastle court April 30.
In a statement March 17, Archbishop Dennis Hart of Melbourne, president of the Australian bishops’ conference, urged parishioners and the wider community to “not make any judgment until the charge against Archbishop Wilson has been dealt with by the court.”
“I hope this matter will be resolved without undue delay,” the statement said.
Father Fletcher was accused of abusing children in a string of allegations spanning about 20 years beginning in the 1970s. He died in prison in 2006, a year into a seven-and-a-half year sentence after being convicted of abusing an altar server in the early 1990s.
Archbishop Wilson has headed the Adelaide Archdiocese since 2001 and was bishop of the Diocese of Wollongong from 1996 to 2000.