MICHAEL MULLINS. Wilson conviction exposes Australian bishops’ lack of contrition

Recently a friend abused by a priest in Newcastle 40 years ago took his own life. Archbishop Philip Wilson was convicted this week for concealing sexual abuse in that diocese around the same time. Church leaders valued the institution ahead of its people, and unfortunately it appears little has changed in the attitude of the Australian bishops.

In January this year, a friend took his own life while suffering psychological torture that was apparently caused by a priest sexually abusing him in Newcastle more than 40 years ago.

I think of him when I reflect on Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson’s conviction this week for covering up the claim of another sexual abuse victim in that diocese around the same time.

Nothing is known of the circumstances of my friend’s sexual abuse. But I can’t help wondering that if church personnel in positions of authority had routinely acted on knowledge or suspicion of sexual abuse, he might have been spared the suffering that led to his suicide.

Instead they failed to act because priority was given to preserving the good name of the church. There was a culture of arrogance that appeared to value the integrity of the institution ahead of the welfare of the people it purported to serve.

Unfortunately it appears – to me at least – that there has been a lack of fundamental change in the attitude of the Australian bishops as a body.

Yesterday a friend wrote in an open Facebook post addressed to the Australian bishops: ‘If it were appropriate for every one of Chile’s Bishops to tender their resignations to the Holy Father, why is it appropriate that a convicted criminal … retains his position [as Archbishop of Adelaide]?’

He was referring to the Chilean bishops’ recent acceptance of their failings and their offer to resign. Pope Francis had accused them of destroying evidence of sexual crimes, putting pressure on investigators to downplay abuse accusations and showing ‘grave negligence’ in protecting children from paedophile priests.

According to testimony heard by the Royal Commission, that is exactly what took place in Maitland-Newcastle Diocese under Bishop Leo Clarke. Clarke was Archbishop Wilson’s superior at the time, and Archbishop Wilson was required to dance to his tune.

As it happens, Archbishop Wilson did decide to step down late yesterday. But only after dragging his feet and being supported in doing so by Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference President Archbishop Mark Coleridge.

Why was it left to Archbishop Wilson – with his understandable lack of objectivity – to decide on such a crucial matter? How could it be that a convicted criminal was allowed to continue to serve as Archbishop of Adelaide and to make that decision himself? Surely Archbishop Coleridge should have been publicly exhorted him to stand down immediately after his conviction, if not before (Coleridge does not have the authority to remove him).

Moreover I interpreted Archbishop Coleridge’s short statement after Wilson’s conviction as a slapping down of the criminal justice system and, by implication, the victims whom it had vindicated. Why was it relevant for Coleridge to mention in such a brief document that Archbishop Wilson ‘maintained his innocence throughout this long judicial process’? To me, Archbishop Coleridge appeared to be publicly questioning his colleague’s criminal conviction.

As a recent President of the Bishops Conference, Archbishop Wilson was a leading light in the Bishops’ attempts to implement programs and policies to protect children at risk. He seems to be of good character. However the court has decided that he has a criminal past that he must atone for.

If I ask myself whether I want him to go to jail, I have to say yes. If he doesn’t, there will be little or no justice for those whom he failed all those years ago. They are individuals who remind me of my clergy sex abuse victim friend who did not receive justice and took his own life.

Michael Mullins is a former editor of Eureka Street and CathNews

 

 

 

 

 

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16 Responses to MICHAEL MULLINS. Wilson conviction exposes Australian bishops’ lack of contrition

  1. Joan Seymour says:

    I’m wondering about an appeal, too. The crime wasn’t a crime at the time it was originally committed – i.e. failure to report abuse wasn’t illegal then in NSW – but once it became a crime Philip Wilson should have remembered the accusations and reported it then. I’m not sure why failure to report is interpreted as concealment of a crime – he wasn’t a bishop at the time of his failure. Anyway, I doubt if anyone will suggest an appeal. This might do even more damage to the reputation of the Church, in the present climate.

  2. Deb Campbell says:

    An excellent article Michael and long overdue. I was delighted to learn of the Archbishop’s conviction and like you was aghast that he merely stood down and did not – and had not already – resigned. How can such a man claim his actions – years ago and this week – benefit his church? Surely they and he are tainted beyond repair?

    I agree that the Chilean Bishops’ action was absolutely appropriate and suggest all bishops of all Christian religions in Australia should do the same.

    And what of Cardinal Pell? We are not allowed to even hear about his trials apparently. Let’s hope what ever the outcome of those, there are fresh charges pending along the lines of the ones which successful convicted Archbishop Wilson. I for one cannot wait. With any luck Cardinal Pell’s ordeal will never be over – as the ordeals of so many he refused to help – including your old friend Michael – never were.

  3. I love your righteous passion and anger, Michael – it is completely justified.
    However, I again would ask readers to consider, especially in this case where canon law was not applicable due to mandatory reporting laws in NSW, to again consider the following statement – and it may as well be almost everyone’s and not just Michael’s, as it is repeated everywhere:
    “Instead they failed to act because priority was given to preserving the good name of the church. There was a culture of arrogance that appeared to value the integrity of the institution ahead of the welfare of the people it purported to serve”.
    Yes, it is certainly arrogance but is it really about preserving the ‘good’ name of the church, OR, the secrets of the reality of activities and/or beliefs and attitudes towards clergy sexual activity in general, and the knowledge of each other’s, that is being protected. I’m sure it’s both but I will keep knocking on the door that says it’s the protecting themselves rather than any supposed ‘good name’, especially when they continue to do so, and especially now after so much of that good name is completely undeserved and destroyed. It just doesn’t make sense.

  4. Michael Byrne says:

    “Nothing is known of the circumstances of my friend’s sexual abuse.” That is the point.

    With events over 45 years ago it all comes down to one person’s word against another’s.

    And justice is delivered here by a single hand of the law in a Newcastle Court that is situated in a provincial city in which the public mood could be read to trump justice with vengeance against whoever is brought before the Law – the old “all against one” to release the social pressure in widely held ill-will. Where such a situation exists what officer of the Law would will to counter the public expectations.
    Justice must be the held paramount. It will be interesting to observe any legal appeal process.

    • Lynne Newington says:

      And isn’t it wonderful to see it role before our very eyes…

      “No weapon formed against you will prosper”………eventually.

    • Jennifer Anne Herrick says:

      Single hand of the law? Really? Public vengeance in a provincial city? Really? Justice thereby trumped. Really?
      These comments call into question the citizens, the police and the judiciary but not the man convicted. Makes for a great story. The stuff of fiction.

      • Lynne Newington says:

        Where ever it comes from single, hand of law or God’s providential hand. He spoke to Balaam through the mouth of a donkey so nothing should surprise us.

  5. Trish Martin says:

    Bravo Michael, the bishops show a very poor consciousness of the polarities between friendship and betrayal. Jesus called his followers ‘his friends’ but the friendship of bishops remains reserved for themselves in direct betrayal of children.

  6. Michael says:

    “Nothing is known of the circumstances of my friend’s sexual abuse.” That is the point.

    With events over 45 years ago it all comes down to one person’s word against another’s.

    And justice is delivered here by a single hand of the law in a Newcastle Court that is situated in a provincial city in which the public mood could be read to trump justice with vengeance against whoever is brought before the Law – the old “all against one” to release the social pressure in widely held ill-will. Where such a situation exists what officer of the Law would will to counter the public expectations.
    Justice must be the held paramount. It will be interesting to observe any legal appeal process.

  7. Graham English says:

    People keep saying that in the 1970s sexual abuse of children was not reported. This is simply not true. It is true that some of those who covered up knew both exactly what they were doing and that it was legally wrong (not to mention morally wrong). I was telling someone yesterday about a case I was involved in of a teacher being reported to police and court action being taken. It was in 1970. He asked me, “And how many boys do you think were saved?” I don’t know but we now have a fair idea of how many were abused therefore not saved because of the cover ups. The cover ups were sometimes good men doing bad things. That they were good men mostly isn’t much consolation for the boys and girls who were abused.

    • Jennifer Anne Herrick says:

      Graham, from the perspective of being on the receiving end, I can’t accept the notion of goodmen doing bad things. Perhaps you have in mind the notion of the Fundamental Option. But that notion only works when the bad is an isolated event, not a continuous event. Abusers and concealers, who invariably repeat their behaviour, are not good men, not remotely.

      • Joan Seymour says:

        Jennifer Anne Herrick, it’s fairly easy to recognize that repeated illdoing is not the mark of a good man (or woman). But it’s not the mark of an evil man (or woman) either. The mark of the evil person is complete indifference to their wrong-doing, complete lack of remorse, complete lack of intention or attempt to reform. A person like this seems to have left his humanity behind. I don’t know whether Philip Wilson would fit into this category.

  8. Tony Ryan says:

    I share your sentiments, Michael.

    I drew the Vatican-sourced conundrum to the Churche’s attention in the early 1960s and they told me the welfare of the Church is more important than that of a single child. I imagine you know the convoluted rationale.’

    Anyway, I suggested that they excommunicate me because I was now the implacable enemy of the Vatican and would stay that way until Rome sold off its wealth and came back to the people… the old camel through the eye of a needle, analogy.

    As Lord Acton said, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That pretty much sums up the Catholic Church today, and ever since the 7th century.

    • Rosemary O'Grady says:

      Lord Acton said other, pertinent, things, for some of which see RHTawney’s Religion & the Rise of Capitalism. But : here’s a thought – what about a publication – selected correspondence from those ‘raised a Catholic’ of their attempts by letter to draw anomalies (not necessarily solely about sexual misconduct) to the attention of ‘Church’ authorities…! I’d be happy to co-edit such a volume provided it were slim enough! My own favourite amongst my own souvenirs is a long-ago letter from a papal nuncio explaining that the reason the Vatican required ambassadors to it to be non-female persons only was the same, unchallengeable, reason (‘nobody questions why’)that the Vatican Guard are all young, unmarried Swiss… there must be more of this sort of material in the biosphere?

  9. Lynne Newington says:

    This emphasises my thoughts on why the parents of this friend of yours and others, are not included in the redress scheme [or other], recognising the loss of a beloved child still locked in the hearts of these departed collateral damage.

  10. Jim KABLE says:

    Bravo, Michael. It needed saying by someone of your stature. I find it incomprehensible that this man can still clearly feel no remorse for those further abused (and some of whom may have taken their own lives subsequently for the monster/monsters allowed to continue their sexual assaults and destruction of lives – of those who lived on – as well as those who could no longer the shame of their stolen innocence). The longer this Phillip Wilson continues in his feeble and disbelieved protestations – the deeper into the chasm of darkness disappears any vestigial sense of ethics claimed by the church. We need the victims – indeed those three courageous men and family members alongside who were there in the courtroom to hear the decision to be bathed in a holiness long gone from Phillip. Why can’t he see that? Is it hubris? Is it that he feels unjustly singled out when he knows where all the other perpetrator and protector monsters are getting away with their own paedophilia? I wonder…

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