Former Adelaide Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson has had his criminal conviction for concealing child sex abuse quashed, The Australian reports.
According to the publication, the former archbishop appealed the conviction he was originally handed and will walk free after judge Roy Ellis delivered the appeal judgement in a courtroom filled with abuse survivors on Thursday.
In May, the 68-year-old was found guilty of concealing the repeated sexual abuse of two altar boys by paedophile priest Jim Fletcher. In July, he received a 12-month prison sentence, which was delayed pending an assessment for home detention.
Following another hearing in August, the Bishop was granted permission to carry out his sentence at home, rather than spending time in prison, but appealed the decision in November. His barrister Stephen Odgers SC asked Judge Ellis to consider beyond reasonable doubt that Wilson failed to disclose information to police between 2004 and 2006 about Fletcher’s assaults that date back to the 1970s.
Judge Ellis said Wilson wasn’t reminded of the conversation for more than three decades.
“If a person has no memory of an event or occasion they aren’t able to say why. Logically they can only admit that they have no memory,” he said, according to The Australian. “Believing something to be true and accurate does not mean it is true or accurate.”
Wilson stepped down as Archbishop in July following mounting pressure, with then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, along with other top politicians, calling for the religious leader to give up his position.
In a statement issued by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference on July 30, president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the Pope had accepted the resignation.
“While the judicial process will continue, Archbishop Wilson’s resignation is the next chapter in a heartbreaking story of people who were sexually abused at the hands of Jim Fletcher and whose lives were forever changed,” the statement read. “This decision may bring some comfort to them despite the ongoing pain they bear.”
However, there was outrage among the public after it was revealed that he would remain a Catholic Bishop despite his conviction. The news that Wilson will retain the title was confirmed by Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Adelaide Bishop Greg O’Kelly during a press conference at the time.
Bishop Kelly said: “He’ll have no authority, no governance in the church. He remains a Bishop, but he’s no longer the Archbishop.”
It was also revealed that despite being convicted for failing to report child sex abuse, Wilson would retain his title of Bishop.
There is no confirmation on what title Wilson will have in future now that he has been acquitted.