Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten on Wednesday both called for the resignation of Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson, who was sentenced on Tuesday to 12 months in detention after being convicted of covering up sexual abuse.
An Australian court found 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.
On Wednesday, Wilson learned that he’ll be allowed to serve half of his sentence at home and the rest on parole. He announced he’ll appeal the conviction, and promised to offer his resignation to the pope if the appeal is unsuccessful.
“I’m surprised that he has not resigned. Clearly, given the outcome of the … prosecution, he should resign,” Turnbull told reporters.
Shorten said resigning was “the very least he can do.”
“The justice system has spoken and has been unequivocal in its judgement,” Shorten said. “His actions were inexcusable, and his position is untenable.”
The premier of the state of South Australia – Adelaide is the capital – echoed these sentiments.
“I think that now there is no choice,” Steven Marshall said. “He’s been convicted, he’s been sentenced. I think it’s untenable to remain in that position.”
Wilson stepped aside as Adelaide archbishop after he was convicted in May but did not resign his post.
Pope Francis later appointed Port Pirie Bishop Gregory O’Kelly as Apostolic Administrator.
In a statement, O’Kelly said, “The arrangements made by Pope Francis for my care of the Archdiocese as Apostolic Administrator remain in place.”
After Wilson’s sentence was announced, the Australian bishops’ conference issued a statement saying they “acknowledge that the effects of sexual abuse can last a lifetime, but we hope that today’s custodial sentence brings some sense of peace and healing to those abused by deceased priest James Fletcher.”
“It takes great courage for survivors to come forward to tell their stories. Survivors have been vital in helping us learn the lesson of our shameful history of abuse and concealment, which was laid bare in the Royal Commission into Institutional Reponses to Child Sexual Abuse and state inquiries, including the Cunneen Inquiry.”
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was established in 2013 to investigate how institutions like schools, churches, sports clubs and government organizations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.
The inquiry – which issued its final report in December – heard the testimonies of more than 8,000 survivors of child sex abuse. Of those who were abused in religious institutions, 62 percent were Catholics.
The 2012-2014 Cunneen Inquiry looked into how the investigation into sexual abuse allegations in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle was handled, and whether the Church fully cooperated with the civil authorities.
The statement from the bishops’ conference said the “Church has made substantial changes to ensure that abuse and cover-up are not part of Catholic life and that children are safe in our communities.”
“We will continue to work with all those in the Church and beyond who are seeking to put in place strong and consistent standards of safeguarding throughout Australia, including how we respond to allegations of sexual abuse,” the statement said.
Also in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, who is on leave as the Vatican finance minister, faces trial on sexual assault charges. A Melbourne magistrate dismissed some of the most serious charges against Pell but ordered him to stand trial on others.