Former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Edward Wilson is a free man after winning an appeal against his conviction for covering up child sexual abuse.
But amid fury from abuse victims and their families, the NSW Government this week ordered its prosecution chief to “consider the prospects” of a Court of Criminal Appeal bid.
The Adelaide Archdiocese is also considering the successful appeal’s ramifications after Archbishop Wilson resigned to Pope Francis in August following a jail sentence over alleged silence on a paedophile priest.
The clergyman, who has early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, was the world’s highest-ranking Church official to be prosecuted for allegedly failing to tell authorities about abuse from the 1970s and 1980s.
He has spent the past four months on home detention at the family’s North Avoca home, 88km north of Sydney, while serving half of a 12-month jail term.
But Judge Roy Ellis found “no direct evidence” he had concealed priest Jim Fletcher’s “serious indictable” crimes between 22 April 2004, and 7 January 2006, at East Maitland, near Newcastle.
Fletcher, 64, died in prison in 2006 while serving a 10-year jail term for abusing an altar boy, Daniel Feenan, 41, who gave evidence at Archbishop Wilson’s trial.
The judge excused Archbishop Wilson from attending the Newcastle hearing to avoid a “media scrum”. He instead listened intently via video link from his sister’s home.
Questioning the “accuracy” of another abused 10-year-old altar boy’s evidence, the judge accepted Archbishop Wilson’s consistent claims of memory failure about an alleged Easter youth group conversation in 1976.
In his judgment, which sparked angry courtroom scenes, he ruled prosecutors had not proved “beyond reasonable doubt” that victim Peter Aidan Creigh, 57, had revealed Fletcher’s abuse five years earlier.
Despite Archbishop Wilson’s poor health, the judge found him an “intelligent and reasonably articulate witness” who correctly kept an “open mind” on abuse claims.
“It is not for me to punish the Catholic Church for its institutional moral deficits or to punish Philip Wilson for the sins of the now deceased James Fletcher by finding (him) guilty simply on the basis that he is a Catholic priest,” he wrote.
Source: The Advertiser.