Former Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson has died aged 70.
Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge said on Twitter that Emeritus Archbishop Wilson had died unexpectedly on Sunday afternoon.
In 2018, Emeritus Archbishop Wilson became the highest-ranking Catholic in the world to be convicted with concealing child sex abuse, over pedophile priest Jim Fletcher’s crimes in the Hunter Valley in the 1970s.
That conviction led him to resign but it was later quashed on appeal, with a court finding there were doubts the archbishop had been told about the abuse.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said Emeritus Archbishop Wilson had also served as the Bishop of Wollongong and as the president of the bishops’ conference.
Church leaders paid tribute to Emeritus Archbishop Wilson, with Archbishop Coleridge saying he was “a true man of the Church and a good friend who suffered greatly”.
Philip Wilson, Emeritus Archbishop of Adelaide, has died unexpectedly this afternoon…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 pic.twitter.com/OhbLCLH4Rk
— Mark Coleridge (@ArchbishopMark) January 17, 2021
Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli said it was “such a sad, sad moment”.
“Yet our friend always longed for his eternal destiny in such faith and hope. May he be welcomed by the Lord,” he wrote on Twitter.
In a statement, the Adelaide Archdiocese says while he’d suffered ill health, including cancer, his death this afternoon was sudden.
It says despite the court case, Emeritus Archbishop Wilson was an important figure in introducing reforms to help the church respond to child sexual abuse.
Archbishop Patrick O’Regan, who replaced Archbishop Wilson, said he was loved across the country and made major contributions to the church.
“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.
High-profile court case before conviction overturned
Emeritus Archbishop Wilson’s court case became headline news, with then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull among those calling for his resignation.
The charges related to an allegation that in 1976, 15-year-old altar boy Peter Creigh went to then-Father Wilson on two occasions and told him that four years earlier he had been abused by fellow priest Fletcher – who died in prison in 2006.
He was found guilty and served four months of a 12-month sentence in home detention before his conviction was overturned, with a judge finding he was an honest and consistent witness and there were reasonable doubts that he had been told about the abuse.
At the time of the quashing, Fletcher’s victims expressed disappointment at the decision.
Patricia Feenan, whose son Daniel was abused by Fletcher, said she hoped Emeritus Archbishop Wilson would never be reinstated as an archbishop.
“I hope the public of Australia have an opinion on that,” she said.
“He didn’t support us in any way at all, so I don’t think anyone should support him.”