ARCHBISHOP Philip Wilson’s closest bishop colleagues have advised him to resign after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten called for his resignation following his jail sentence on Tuesday.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge confirmed a number of Australian bishops had “offered their advice privately”, after Wilson’s refusal to resign was widely condemned on Wednesday when he announced his decision to appeal his conviction for concealing child sex allegations.
“A number of survivors, prominent Australians and other members of the community have publicly called on Archbishop Wilson to resign,” Archbishop Coleridge said in a statement today.
“Although we have no authority to compel him to do so, a number of Australian bishops have also offered their advice privately. Only the Pope can compel a bishop to resign.”
Australia’s bishops respected Archbishop Wilson’s right to lodge an appeal but “we also recognise the ongoing pain this has caused survivors, especially those who were abused by Jim Fletcher”, Archbishop Coleridge said.
On Wednesday Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he was surprised that Wilson, 67, hadn’t already resigned after he was convicted on May 22 of concealing the child sex crimes of Hunter priest Jim Fletcher.
In a statement several hours later Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said: “Resigning immediately is the very least he can do in this circumstance.”
Senior federal Labor Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon said it was “clear Philip Wilson should and must resign”.
Although we have no authority to compel him to do so, a number of Australian bishops have also offered their advice privately. Only the Pope can compel a bishop to resign.- Archbishop Mark Coleridge on Archbishop Wilson's resignation
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Hunter men Peter Gogarty and Daniel Feenan, who were both sexually abused by Jim Fletcher after Wilson was told in 1976 that Fletcher sexually abused two boys, said they were pleased bishops had acted and politicians had supported abuse survivors in calling for Wilson’s resignation.
“I’m delighted the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference is showing some more fortitude about this. They’re a bit slow to catch up,” said Mr Gogarty.
“They’ve probably been stung into action with the number of politicians who’ve called on the archbishop to resign. I’m not sure the bishops would have done this without that kind of pressure.
“Now, surely, surely Archbishop Wilson will do the right thing and resign.”
Mr Gogarty said Australia’s bishops had the opportunity to “get on the right side of history on this or risk further damage to their already shattered reputation”.
“The Catholic Church says it’s changed and it’s more open and transparent and accountable. Well, show some of that, (Pope) Francis, and make Wilson resign.”
Mr Feenan, whose complaint to police in 2003 led to Fletcher being convicted and jailed for child sex crimes, said Australia’s bishops had identified the Pope needed to act.
“I’m calling on the Pope to make that decision immediately.”
Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright, who described Wilson as “almost like a member of my family”, is believed to be one of the bishops talking directly to Wilson about his future.
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