Archbishop Wilson, who served as the Archbishop of Adelaide from 2001 until his resignation in 2018, had suffered a series of health problems in recent years, including cancer, however his death on Sunday afternoon at Carmelite was unexpected.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, who is also president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, described Archbishop Wilson as “a true man of the Church and a good friend who suffered greatly”.
“Beyond the darkness of Calvary may he know the light of Easter,” he wrote on Twitter.
Emeritus Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, former Bishop of Port Pirie Diocese, posted on Facebook that he was “privileged” to have worked closely with Archbishop Wilson as his Auxiliary.
“I witnessed his daily prayerfulness in the little domestic chapel, and this continued to be a feature of his life even or especially when reduced so dramatically by illness,” he said. “He suffered so much from how he was treated, so now may the peace of Christ be the reward for his unwavering fidelity to his vocation.”
Archbishop Patrick O’Regan praised the work of his predecessor and his 45 years of priestly ministry.
“We know that Philip was much loved by people across the country, but especially in the places he served – in Maitland-Newcastle, in Wollongong and here in Adelaide,” Archbishop O’Regan said.
“He made major contributions to the Church and the wider communities in which he ministered, and was seen as a valuable part of the Bishops Conference, including during four years as president of the national assembly of about 40 bishops.”
Archbishop O’Regan said while Archbishop Wilson had been charged with failing to respond adequately to allegations of child sexual abuse while a priest in the Hunter region, he was acquitted of all charges.
“A harrowing period of allegations, charges, conviction and eventually acquittal was a significant chapter on Philip’s life, but his record of supporting and advocating on behalf of victims and survivors is part of his legacy,” Archbishop O’Regan said.
“Philip knew what pain many people had endured and suffered as a result of the sickening actions of some within the Church. He was part of the solution, and widely recognised as such.”
Bishop Brian Mascord from the Diocese of Wollongong said he was saddened to learn of Archbishop Wilson’s death and asked the faithful to “pray for Philip, the Wilson family and the Archdiocese of Adelaide at this very sad time”.
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said this year’s historic Plenary Council would in some sense be a “memorial to Archbishop Wilson as it was he who first pressed for one to be held in Australia, a century after the last one”.
Born in the Hunter region of New South Wales, a young Philip Wilson attended St Joseph’s College, Hunter’s Hill, then studied at St Columba’s College, Springwood, and St Patrick’s College, Manly, before being ordained a priest of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
Ordained Bishop of Wollongong in 1996, he was seen as an important figure in introducing reforms to help the Catholic Church respond to the issue of child sexual abuse. Archbishop Wilson served as president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference for three consecutive terms, from 2006 to 2012.
Details of Archbishop Wilson’s funeral have not yet been finalised.