THE trial of the most senior Catholic cleric to be charged with failing to report child sexual abuse to police, Cessnock-born Archbishop Philip Wilson, will start in Newcastle Court on Tuesday more than two years after the charge against him was reported around the world.
The landmark case, and Archbishop Wilson’s three failed attempts to have the charge dismissed, has opened the door to similar charges being laid against church and secular officials in NSW alleged to have failed to report child sex allegations to police over decades.
Archbishop Wilson, 67, has pleaded not guilty to failing to advise police between April, 2004 and January, 2006 that Hunter priest Jim Fletcher allegedly indecently assaulted a boy, 10, in 1971.
The trial in Newcastle Local Court will hear evidence that the boy allegedly disclosed the abuse to the newly ordained Hunter priest Philip Wilson in 1976. The prosecution will allege a second boy disclosed during confession in 1976 that he was also sexually abused by Fletcher.
Archbishop Wilson was charged in March, 2015 with failing to report the 1970s allegations to police for nearly two years from April, 2004, after Fletcher was charged with child sex offences, until January, 2006 when the priest died in jail following his conviction.
The trial will include evidence from the mother of a Fletcher victim who allegedly phoned Archbishop Wilson in April, 2004 to say her son had been sexually abused by Fletcher.
The prosecution will allege that from 2004 to 2006 Archbishop Wilson acquired the belief that Fletcher sexually abused two boys and without reasonable excuse failed to report information to police that might have helped the prosecution case.
The Adelaide archbishop unsuccessfully applied to Newcastle Local Court in 2015 to have the charge dropped. In a decision in February, 2016 magistrate Robert Stone said the case involved “a very unusual set of circumstances”, but he did not accept Archbishop Wilson’s argument it was “doomed to failure”.
NSW Supreme Court Justice Monika Schmidt in October, 2016 dismissed the archbishop’s appeal against Mr Stone’s decision, finding that the evidence, if accepted, was capable of giving rise to the inference that the 1971 allegations would have been remembered by the archbishop in 2004.
Three judges of the NSW Court of Appeal in June dismissed the archbishop’s appeal against Justice Schmidt’s decision, allowing the trial to go ahead after Archbishop Wilson did not seek leave to appeal to the High Court.
The two-week trial is listed to be heard by Newcastle Local Court magistrate Andrew Eckhold from Tuesday.
Archbishop Wilson was born in Cessnock in 1950, and attended St Patrick’s Primary School in Cessnock and St Josephs College, Hunters Hill before he was ordained a priest and appointed to East Maitland parish in 1975.
He was appointed Vicar General of Maitland diocese in 1987, Bishop of Wollongong in 1996 and Archbishop of Adelaide in 2001.