An archbishop’s conviction for failing to report abuse has shocked Catholics

The month of May has not been easy for Catholics living in the city of Adelaide, South Australia. On Tuesday May 22, their archbishop, Philip Wilson (pictured), was convicted of concealing the sexual abuse of two boys in the 1970s. Hailed as a “landmark” case, it made headlines across the world, as Wilson became the most senior Catholic official in the world to be charged with concealing child sex abuse.

One bishop in the region, Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ of Port Pyrie, said the verdict had come as a “complete surprise” to many. It also came as a shock to the archbishop, who as recently as April had sent a circular to staff expressing his hope of resuming his usual activities after a “short period of personal leave”. He had denied any knowledge of the abuse that two men said they had told him about. The 67-year-old may now face imprisonment of up to two years. Sentencing is due on July 19.

Accused in 2013 and charged in March 2015, Wilson has continued as archbishop during a gruelling five-year process, even after a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s in November.

Last week, however, he announced his decision to “stand aside” from his duties as archbishop, adding that he would be willing to resign if “necessary or appropriate”. (While continuing as archbishop, he has left the administrative care of the diocese to Fr Philip Marshall, the vicar general, with the support of Fr Anthoni Adimai, the new adjunct vicar general.) The reaction of Adelaide Catholics has been one of shock, grief and confusion. Some are angered by Church corruption, others worried by episcopal innocence, but most don’t know what to think. While there has been no official response in parishes, there have been individual calls to prayer. One parish organised a three-hour prayer vigil. Archdiocesan and even parish offices have received an influx of phone calls, some hostile.

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