ADELAIDE Archbishop Philip Wilson will appeal his conviction for concealing child sex crimes after refusing to resign despite calls for his resignation from Malcolm Turnbull, Bill Shorten and senior Catholic priest Frank Brennan.
Wilson announced his intention to appeal to the District Court in a statement a day after he was sentenced to 12 months’ jail, and after senior Australian politicians voiced their concern at the lack of a public response from the Catholic Church.
“Resigning immediately is the very least he can do in this circumstance,” said Opposition Leader Bill Shorten several hours after the Prime Minister said he was surprised that Wilson, 67, hadn’t already resigned after he was convicted on May 22.
In a statement on Wednesday evening Wilson said he was “conscious of calls for me to resign” and he had “taken them very seriously”.
“However, at this time, I am entitled to exercise my legal rights and to follow the due process of law,” he said.
“Since that process is not yet complete I do not intend to resign at this time.”
If his appeal is unsuccessful “I will immediately offer my resignation to the Holy See”, he said.
“In the meantime I have stood aside from all duties.”
Newcastle Local Court magistrate Robert Stone sentenced Wilson to 12 months jail for failing to report child sex allegations about Hunter priest Jim Fletcher to police between 2004 and 2006.
Imprisonment was the only appropriate penalty, Mr Stone said.
Senior federal Labor Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon said it was “clear Philip Wilson should and must resign”.
Mr Fitzgibbon, a former Maitland Marist student, told parliament on May 29 that Australians should “never again allow religion to be used as a shield against evil”, after revealing his school principal, his local priest and one of his school contemporaries were later convicted of child sex offences. He recalled the principal, Brother Nestor, using the school loudspeaker to call a student to his office.
“Brother Nestor was not inviting him for a chat. It was, of course, something more sinister than I could have ever imagined as a year 9 student,” Mr Fitzgibbon said in a passionate speech on the national redress scheme for abuse survivors.
In response to questions on Wednesday about the silence of Australia’s bishops after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and Wilson’s conviction, Mr Fitzgibbon expressed profound disappointment.
“Catholic Church leadership has not covered itself in glory either before or since the revelations. Like all Catholics, I’m more than disappointed,” he said.
Jesuit priest and chief executive of Catholic Social Services Australia, Father Frank Brennan, said it was “time for the archbishop to tender his resignation and for Pope Francis to accept the resignation promptly”.
In an opinion piece on Tuesday after the sentencing Father Brennan said Wilson should resign so that he could “take his time to pursue any further legal appeals which could take a considerable time if they go all the way to the High Court”.
Hunter survivor advocate Peter Gogarty said he was pleased that Mr Turnbull, Mr Shorten and Mr Fitzgibbon had spoken on the issue and had called for Wilson to resign.
“I think they’re probably reflecting the views of a huge percentage of the population,” Mr Gogarty said.