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Australian Archbishop Convicted of Covering Up Sexual Abuse Resigns

Archbishop Philip Wilson leaves Newcastle Local Court in Newcastle, Australia, July 3, 2018. (AAP/Darren Pateman/via Reuters)

Pope Francis on Monday accepted the resignation of an Australian archbishop recently convicted of covering up the abuse of children by a priest for decades.

Adelaide archbishop Philip Wilson had remained in his post since being sentenced to a year of detention in May for failing to report the abuse of two altar boys in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese decades ago, when he housed with their abuser, the late reverend James Fletcher. He submitted his resignation on July 20, and is appealing his conviction.

“I must end this and therefore have decided that my resignation is the only appropriate step to take in the circumstances,” Wilson said in a letter to the archdiocese. “I made this decision because I have become increasingly worried at the growing level of hurt that my recent conviction has caused within the community.”

Fletcher, the predatory priest whom Wilson was charged with covering for, died in 2006 while serving a sentence for a separate case of abusing a minor in the 1990s. One of his victims has said he refuses to believe that Wilson did not know of the horrific goings-on, especially since he was abused in the house the two priests shared and crossed paths with Wilson at the house.

Lay Catholics, other priests, and even Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had pressured Francis to fire Wilson, with Turnbull saying “the time has come” for him to be sacked. “There is no more important responsibility for community and church leaders than the protection of children,” the prime minister said in a statement Monday.

Pope Francis has cracked down in recent months on church leaders who are enmeshed in sexual-abuse scandals. The most high-profile figure to be forced out was Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., who has been accused of abusing both children and seminarians for decades.

Wilson, a former president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, was the archbishop of Adelaide from 2001 to 2018.

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