Australian bishop convicted of sex abuse cover-up resigns
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Monday accepted the resignation of an Australian archbishop convicted in criminal court of covering up the sexual abuse of children by a priest, taking action after coming under mounting pressure from ordinary Catholics, priests and even the Australian prime minister.
It was the second major announcement of a sex abuse-related resignation in as many days, after Francis’ dramatic sanctioning and demotion this weekend of a prominent U.S. cardinal. The move suggests Francis is keen to clean house before he heads to Dublin next month for a big Catholic family rally were the sex abuse scandal is likely to dominate the agenda given Ireland’s devastating history with predator priests and the bishops who covered for them.
In Australia, Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson was convicted in May and sentenced to a year’s detention for failing to report to police the repeated abuse of two altar boys by a pedophile priest, the late Rev. James Fletcher, in the Hunter Valley region north of Sydney during the 1970s. He became the highest-ranking Catholic cleric ever convicted in a criminal court of abuse cover-up.
Wilson, who denied the accusations, had immediately stepped aside after he was convicted but refused to resign pending an appeal. As recently as last week, though, Wilson acknowledged that calls for his sacking were increasing, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull added his voice to the chorus July 19 in urging Francis to fire him.
Even one of Fletcher’s victims spoke out: Australian media published a letter last week from Peter Gogarty to Francis urging him to remove Wilson. “Imagine if you can, your own childhood, your Catholic upbringing and the character-destroying belief that you were engaged in the worst of mortal sins,” Gogarty wrote the pope. “I am now 57 years old and continue to struggle with the burden forced upon me.”
In a one-line statement Monday, the Vatican said Francis had accepted Wilson’s resignation. At 67, he is well under the normal retirement age for bishops of 75.
In a statement issued by the archdiocese, Wilson said he had submitted his resignation to Francis of his own will on July 20 — a day after Turnbull’s call — and said he hoped his decision would help abuse victims and the rest of the Catholic community heal.