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Charges against Archbishop “foredoomed to fail”: court

A charge against Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson of concealing the child sex crimes of a Hunter priest was “foredoomed to fail”, a Newcastle local court magistrate has been told.

Barrister Ian Tenby, SC, for the archbishop has asked magistrate Robert Stone to permanently stay proceedings against the archbishop, arguing the continuation of proceedings would be an abuse of the court’s process.

The archbishop is the most senior Catholic clergyman in the world to have been charged with an offence of concealing the child sex crime of another priest.

Archbishop Wilson was charged in March with concealing from police that a 15-year-old boy had told him in 1976 that Hunter priest Jim Fletcher had sexually abused him. Archbishop Wilson has strongly rejected the allegation of concealing a child sex crime.

Mr Tenby told the court that the archbishop “expressed and held a state of disbelief in relation to the allegations”, and there was “no evidence, at any time, he gave credence to what (the boy) allegedly said to him”.

There was no suggestion the then Father Wilson was “party to the sexual misconduct”, or that Fletcher had made any admissions to Father Wilson, Mr Tenby said.

The charge against Adelaide Archbishop Wilson, who was ordained in 1975 and served in the Hunter for another two decades, was “unprecedented”, Mr Tenby said.

“We can find no other prosecution, in circumstances where the accused was not complicit, or at least a witness, to the offence,” Mr Tenby told the court.

The archbishop was charged after a Hunter man made a statement to police in February 2013 alleging he had a conversation with the then Father Wilson in a church premises in 1976, alleging he had been sexually abused by Fletcher.

The man was 15 in 1976 and a member of a Catholic youth group run by Father Wilson.

Fletcher was not charged with child sex offences until 2003 when another victim spoke with police. Fletcher was convicted and jailed, and died in 2006.

“The delay in this case is also unprecedented,” Mr Tenby said.

The Crown case is that Archbishop Wilson acquired knowledge of a serious offence committed against the boy at the time of the alleged conversation in 1976.

The court was told four other men would give evidence alleging they were victims of Fletcher.

The hearing continues.

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