In a statement released yesterday, the Archbishop said he was conscious of calls for him to resign and “have taken them very seriously”.
“However, at this time, I am entitled to exercise my legal rights and to follow the due process of law. Since that process is not yet complete, I do not intend to resign at this time. However, if I am unsuccessful in my appeal, I will immediately offer my resignation to the Holy See,” he said.
“In the meantime, I have stood aside from all duties. The legal process must now be allowed to proceed in the normal way and therefore I do not intend to make any further comment at this time.”
On Tuesday, the Archbishop was sentenced in the Newcastle Local Court for failing to report historical child sexual abuse in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.
Magistrate Robert Stone sentenced him to a non-parole period of imprisonment of six months with an additional period of six months to be served on parole. The proceedings have been adjourned until August 14 during which time the Archbishop will be assessed for suitability for home detention.
Apostolic Administrator Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ said it was therefore inappropriate for him to make any further comment about this case.
“However, in such circumstances we should be very aware of the impact on survivors, their families and all those who love them. I have witnessed the anguish and grief of victims. The Church must continue all efforts to listen and support them,” he said.
“I reiterate that our commitment to the safety of every child in our Church and schools is paramount.
“The arrangements made by Pope Francis for my care of the Archdiocese as Apostolic Administrator remain in place,” Bishop O’Kelly added.
In a statement issued following the sentencing, the Catholic Bishops of Australia acknowledged that the effects of sexual abuse “can last a lifetime”, but said they hoped today’s custodial sentence “brings some sense of peace and healing” to those abused by deceased priest James Fletcher.
“It takes great courage for survivors to come forward to tell their stories. Survivors have been vital in helping us learn the lesson of our shameful history of abuse and concealment, which was laid bare in the Royal Commission into Institutional Reponses to Child Sexual Abuse and state inquiries, including the Cunneen Inquiry,” the statement said.
“The Church has made substantial changes to ensure that abuse and cover-up are not part of Catholic life and that children are safe in our communities.
“We will continue to work with all those in the Church and beyond who are seeking to put in place strong and consistent standards of safeguarding throughout Australia, including how we respond to allegations of sexual abuse.”
Bishop Bill Wright from the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle also released a statement in which he said he had known Archbishop Wilson for many years and like others who had followed the proceedings of the Royal Commission, was aware of his “vigorous actions” against child abusers as a bishop.
“In Wollongong he refused to accept the finding of a Roman tribunal that a suspected priest should be returned to duty, and his stance was later vindicated. In Adelaide he offered material assistance to the SA Police to extradite a lay church employee back from the United States.
“It is a deep shock and disappointment that this man has been found guilty of covering up abuse.
“As bishop of this diocese, I accept the judgment of the court in imposing this sentence. Child sexual abuse is an appalling crime for the lasting harm it inflicts on those abused, their families and ultimately our whole national community.
“Archbishop Wilson is a long-time friend and colleague of mine, and almost like a member of my family. But in these matters all of us must rigorously set aside such considerations in the interests of justice and the protection of children.”
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