NEW YORK — Australia’s National Council of Priests has endorsed appeals for Pope Francis to intervene in the case of embattled Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson following his refusal to resign after being convicted of failing to report crimes of sexual abuse.
“While the Archbishop is exercising his constitutional right to appeal his conviction, his tenure as Archbishop of Adelaide has been compromised,” read the statement from the Council.
“For the good of the Church in Australia and for the benefit of the People of God in the Archdiocese of Adelaide, the Executive of the NCP requests that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, removes Archbishop Philip Wilson from his See,” the statement continued.
The Council’s demand comes just days after the country’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on the pope to “sack” Wilson, who is the highest-ranking official in the Catholic Church ever to be convicted of sex abuse cover-up.
While Turnbull had previously called on Wilson to resign, his latest remarks are the first occasion in which he called for the intervention of Francis in the matter.
In May, an Australian court found that Wilson failed to report to police the repeated abuse of two altar boys by pedophile priest James Fletcher in the Hunter Valley region north of Sydney during the 1970s.
In the meantime, Francis has appointed Port Pirie Bishop Gregory O’Kelly as Apostolic Administrator of the Adelaide archdiocese.
In addition to the Council, a number of leading Australian prelates have called on Wilson to resign, including Melbourne’s Archbishop-elect Peter Comensoli, who will soon lead the nation’s largest diocese.
“I think the path he is taking is not of benefit for God’s people in Adelaide, so I along with a number of other bishops have sought to counsel Philip in that regard,” Comensoli told ABC Religion.
Earlier this month, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, head of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, issued a statement acknowledging that some Australian bishops had privately encouraged Wilson to step aside after he vowed to appeal his conviction.
Despite such efforts, Coleridge went on to note that only the pope can mandate a bishop to step down.