VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis appointed Bishop Gregory O’Kelly of Port Pirie, Australia, to be apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Adelaide.
The appointment, announced by the Vatican June 3, came after Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide said May 23 he will stand aside from his duties as archbishop after being convicted of covering up allegations of clerical sexual abuse.
Archbishop Wilson, who faces a maximum penalty of two years in jail for failing to inform police about child sexual abuse allegations, said he would step aside as of May 25 as he considers how to proceed legally. The sentencing is expected in June.
For the time being, he continues to retain the title of archbishop of Adelaide while Bishop O’Kelly was named effective head of the archdiocese.
Bishop O’Kelly was ordained a Jesuit priest in Adelaide in 1972. He has long served in ministry formation and education and was awarded the Order of Australia in 1994 for his work in education.
He was named auxiliary bishop of Adelaide in 2006 and bishop of Port Pirie in 2009. He is chairman of the Australian bishops’ commission for Catholic education and a member of the bishops’ commission for justice and development. In 2012, he was appointed deputy chair of the commission overseeing the work of Caritas Australia.
In a statement May 23, Archbishop Wilson said, “If at any point in time it becomes necessary or appropriate for me to take more formal steps, including by resigning as archbishop, then I will do so.”
“In the meantime, while the remainder of the legal process runs its course, I want to assure the Catholic faithful in the archdiocese of my continued prayers and best wishes and assure everyone that the affairs of the archdiocese will be appropriately managed in my absence.”
A local court in Newcastle found that, in 1976, then-Father Wilson had been told by a 15-year-old boy that he had been indecently assaulted by a priest who later died in prison, but that Father Wilson chose not to go to the authorities despite believing the allegations were true.
Archbishop Wilson is the highest-ranking church official to be convicted of covering up abuse charges. He recently was diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and throughout the magistrate’s hearing, he testified that he had no memory of the conversation.
However, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Magistrate Robert Stone said the weight of multiple prosecution witnesses, “solid, church-going people,” helped convince him.
In February 2017, in testimony before a government commission wrapping up more than three years of investigation into the Australian Catholic Church’s response to child sexual abuse, Archbishop Wilson said: “Part of the difficulty that we’ve had in responding to this crisis about sexual abuse was simply based on the fact that people just didn’t know and understand what they were dealing with. … I don’t think they really understood the nature of sexual abuse of children and the effect that it had on the children.”
The Royal Commission of Inquiry Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, announced in 2012 and launched in 2013, investigated allegations of sexual and physical abuse across dozens of institutions, including schools, sports clubs and several religious organizations.
On May 1, after a monthlong pretrial hearing, an Australian judge ordered Cardinal George Pell, on leave as head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, to stand trial on multiple charges of sexual abuse of minors, charges the cardinal consistently has denied.
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