ARCHBISHOP Philip Wilson is being treated for bowel cancer only months after release of a highly critical report about his handling of child sex allegations about Hunter priests Jim Fletcher and Denis McAlinden.
The retired Catholic archbishop and former Maitland-Newcastle priest will not be responding to the report, which Fletcher victim Peter Creigh described as a "vindication", after the archbishop in 2018 successfully appealed his landmark conviction for concealing Fletcher's crimes.
Commissioner Margaret Cunneen's findings that Philip Wilson's evidence was "improbable", "implausible" and "unsatisfactory", and that he should have reported serious allegations about McAlinden to police in 1987, showed Philip Wilson had "failed as a moral leader", Mr Creigh said.
"There is no doubt. You only have to read that report," Mr Creigh said.
Mr Creigh said he "obviously wish(ed) him well during his treatment", but the report's release last September, and its damning conclusions about Philip Wilson and his evidence, required a response from the Catholic Church in Australia and its leaders, Archbishop Wilson's bishop colleagues.
Ms Cunneen's report remained confidential for more than five years after a NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into Catholic Church and police responses to Hunter child sex allegations in 2013. In March, 2015 the archbishop was charged with concealing Fletcher's crimes.
All reference to the archbishop was redacted from three volumes of Ms Cunneen's report released in 2014, and the archbishop's evidence to the commission was during hearings closed to the public.
Mr Creigh is making some of his first public comments since Newcastle District Court Judge Roy Ellis in December, 2018 overturned the archbishop's landmark conviction.
The confidential Cunneen report revealed the archbishop's conflicting evidence about his knowledge of Fletcher's sexual abuse of boys and memory of a conversation with a teenage Peter Creigh in 1976 about Fletcher's abuse.
The archbishop initially gave evidence to the commission that he knew nothing of Fletcher's sexual abuse of boys until Fletcher's arrest in 2003. But after hearing Mr Creigh's evidence to the special commission "Wilson told the commission he had developed a 'gnawing thought that, somehow or other, there was something that happened'," Ms Cunneen found.
"The commission concluded that Wilson's evidence about the 'gnawing thought' was an attempt to accommodate the credible account" given by Mr Creigh, she found.
"The commission finds Wilson's purported inability to recall (Mr Creigh's) disclosure to be implausible and untrue."
During his trial before Newcastle Local Court magistrate Robert Stone in 2017 the archbishop gave evidence he had no memory of any conversation with Mr Creigh in 1976. During his appeal the archbishop's defence said he "honestly has no recollection of a conversation", Judge Ellis noted.
Mr Creigh said he was unaware of the conflicting answers given by the archbishop at the special commission and the trial and was stunned by the report findings.
"That's the first time I heard that," he said.
Mr Creigh said he "felt gutted" when the appeal was overturned, and Judge Ellis found the archbishop was intelligent and honest, in contrast to the findings of magistrate Stone and the Special Commission of Inquiry.
"It wasn't me taking on the church, because it was the state prosecuting Wilson, but I took it personally," he said.
"That's why I put my name to it. I wanted people to know who I was, to give courage to other victims to come forward. It was a very low, disappointing time. I don't think I've got over it. In fact I know I haven't. I still think about it constantly, and try not to beat myself up over it."
Mr Creigh said the confidential fourth volume was a "vindication" because it showed Archbishop Wilson was "a man who knew a lot more than we imagined" about child sex allegations against Denis McAlinden.
Commissioner Cunneen rejected as "improbable" the archbishop's evidence that he had forgotten communications with anti-corruption crusader MP John Hatton in 1987 about "sexual misbehaviour" complaints involving McAlinden and young children.
The special commission found Mr Hatton and the then Maitland-Newcastle Vicar General Wilson spoke on the phone four times about McAlinden, and communicated by letter, including one letter in which Philip Wilson assured the MP that McAlinden had left the parish for "a full program of psychiatric assessment and help".
The commission regarded as "unsatisfactory and implausible" the archbishop's evidence in 2013 that he had "honestly forgotten" liaising with a psychiatrist about McAlinden, and talking with McAlinden by phone on five occasions between October, 1987 and February, 1988 before McAlinden was moved to Western Australia.
The commission found Philip Wilson by 1987 had already accepted a close friend's allegations that McAlinden had sexually abused her as a very young child. Only two weeks after Wilson responded to Mr Hatton's first letter he received a phone call from Merriwa Catholic school principal Mike Stanwell who reported "another case" involving McAlinden.
"Wilson's failure to consider on any level the question of reporting the matter to police meant that an opportunity for a police investigation into McAlinden at that time was lost," Ms Cunneen found.
Mr Creigh said the extent of the archbishop's knowledge about McAlinden and the criticism of Philip Wilson by the Special Commission of Inquiry required a response from the Catholic Church in Australia.
"That's why so many Catholics around the world feel so betrayed. So many of these senior clergymen knew about these paedophile priests, and did nothing to stop them," he said.
"Vindication is a good word to describe how I felt after that report was released. I just wish it had come out earlier."
He said he stopped attending church a long time ago, and no other family members attended church, including his mother, 90, who was once a regular church-goer.
The family had received no offer of pastoral care from the Catholic Church, he said.
"None of the priests, no one, has come forward to offer any pastoral care to me and my family. None, including to my mum," he said.
"Not one of them has even phoned my mother to say hello, or ask how she is going. It is typical of the total bull.... hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. They say one thing but the reality is very different."
He encouraged adults and children who have been sexually abused to reach out to someone they can trust, "just to help them with their own mental health".
He had taken heart from the extraordinary community support he had received both within the Hunter, and from across Australia and overseas.
"I did not have one derogatory comment made to me through all this. Not one. It was 100 per cent support. That's what gave me the strength to say I've done something good," Mr Creigh said.
St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill classmates of the archbishop from his student years of 1963-68 were advised of his bowel cancer diagnosis and treatment in a newsletter late last year.
"Many Old Boys, not least classmates from his 1963-68 year group, will be concerned to learn that Archbishop Philip Wilson is battling bowel cancer," the Old Boys newsletter said.
"While many would know of the difficulties he has undergone in recent times, few would be aware of the impact this has had on his health. Philip has an unwavering faith in God's will and has therefore taken on this challenge as he has every other challenge in his life.
"He is on a long road to recovery from his recent surgery, building up his strength before chemotherapy. Our thoughts and prayers are with him."
A spokesperson for the archbishop said he was "still ill and not in a position to respond to your questions".
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