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Archbishop resigns to 'heal pain and distress'

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The resignation of Archbishop Philip Wilson brings to a close a time of uncertainty and anxiety in the local Church, says Bishop Greg O'Kelly SJ.

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In a pastoral letter distributed to parishioners on the weekend, Bishop O’Kelly, who was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese in June, said sentiments of “shock, anger and disillusion” had been expressed to him during the debate over whether the Archbishop should resign.

“There has also been resentment expressed at the way in which the Archbishop has been portrayed,” he wrote.

“There are varying levels of sadness we are dealing with. Firstly, that of the victims. The issues that were raised during the controversy of the past few weeks have stirred up feelings of pain and distress among people who have suffered abuse at the hands of Church personnel, and now have had to undergo the agony of reliving the recollections of those experiences.

“Secondly, there is the level of pain experienced by the Catholic communities as the Church they love has seen to be in such distress…thirdly, there is the pain of the Archbishop himself who has had to come to terms with this distressing scenario.”

Informing the faithful of the Pope’s acceptance of his resignation last week, Archbishop  Wilson said he hoped his resignation would be a catalyst to “heal pain and distress”.

He said his resignation was not requested and he had submitted it to Pope Francis on July 20. This follows his conviction in the Newcastle Magistrates Court for failing to report an allegation of child sexual abuse. He has indicated he will appeal the decision.

A statement from the Apostolic Nunciature in Australia on July 30 said the Holy Father had “accepted the resignation from the pastoral care of the Archdiocese of Adelaide, presented by His Grace the Most Reverend Philip Edward Wilson”.

In his letter to the priests, deacons, religious, parish and school communities and the people of the Archdiocese, Archbishop Wilson said: “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 Fr Fletcher.

“I must end this and therefore have decided that my resignation is the only appropriate step to take in the circumstances.

“I hope and pray that this decision will be a catalyst to heal pain and distress, and that it will allow everyone in the Archdiocese of Adelaide, and the victims of Fr Fletcher, to move beyond this very difficult time.”

The current arrangements for the pastoral care of the Archdiocese remain under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, until the Holy Father appoints a new archbishop.

“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,” Bishop O’Kelly said.

“With the resignation, may there now be a time of healing for all concerned. 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.”

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said Archbishop Wilson’s resignation was the “next chapter in a heartbreaking story of people who were sexually abused at the hands of Jim Fletcher and whose lives were forever changed”.

ACBC president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said Archbishop Wilson had been praised by many for his work to support victims and survivors of child sexual abuse as Bishop of Wollongong, Archbishop of Adelaide and president of the Bishops Conference.

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