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Archbishop covered up child sex abuse for decades

THE state’s most senior Catholic Church leader, Archbishop Philip Wilson, extensively covered up child sex abuse over more than four decades — including paying off alleged victims, a landmark trial has heard.
The Archbishop of Adelaide, 67, on Wednesday became the highest-ranking church official to stand trial accused of concealing the abuse of young boys in the 1970s and 1980s.
In a series of allegations that embroiled the Vatican and a former Pope — but are fiercely denied — Newcastle Local Court was told the Archbishop paid one “pestering” South Australian woman complaining about abuse $10,000 to “make it go away”.
In another, he is accused of offering a $1000 cheque to the sister of an altar victim who was unhappy with the church’s poor handling of allegations a priest sexually abused her brother, the court was told. The sister returned the cheque, it was claimed.
Prosecutors alleged the Archbishop — who has unsuccessfully tried three times to have the case quashed — failed to report allegations to police about that boy and a further two victims of a local priest.
The New South Wales court was told that much of the evidence was “in dispute” — including claims he acted on behalf of the Vatican in telling one victim they may be ruled out by a magistrate as being relevant to the trial.
Dressed in all black and sitting in the public gallery behind his legal team, the Archbishop sweated profusely, appeared dazed and closed his eyes during the opening. Many of the victims’ relatives also sat in the packed court.
Opening the trial on Wednesday more than two-and-a-half years after charges were laid, prosecutor Gareth Harrison told the court how the Archbishop “failed” to bring to the attention of the police allegations of a sex assault of a then-10-year-old-boy at Maitland, near Newcastle, 165km north of Sydney.
The attacker, James Patrick Fletcher, was his then-flatmate in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese. Mr Harrison claimed the Archbishop was first told of claims in 1976 that he had been “punished”.
He said over the next 20 years, the Archbishop was then told about the abuse of a further two altar boys — now grown men — who had been abused by Fletcher.
Mr Harrison detailed in harrowing terms the abuse the boys were subjected to by Fletcher
The Archbishop accepts Fletcher abused one victim but questions the detail he was told and whether it constituted abuse.
Mr Harrison alleged the Archbishop then failed to report the abuse of the first victim between 2004 and 2006 after Fletcher had been charged with sexually abusing one of the two altar boys.
He alleged that, after being told of other alleged abuse cases over the next 20 years, the Archbishop should have had the “knowledge or belief” that a serious indictable offence had been committed when he was a junior priest.
Fletcher, 65, known as Jim, later died in prison while serving a 10-year jail term for abusing an altar boy.
Mr Harrison said that “tendency” evidence would prove that the Archbishop engaged in the systematic cover-up of abuse.
“The Crown says … it is a tendency he used his position within the Catholic Church to dissuade or discourage or prevent others from providing complaints against Catholic clergy or Catholic school teachers,” he told the court.
The Archbishop, who was last week diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease that delayed the start of his trial, denies one charge of concealing a serious indictable offence.
He faces a maximum two years in jail if convicted of the charge laid by NSW Police Strike Force Mantle, which was formed to investigate sexual abuse allegations.
Stephen Odgers, SC, defending, said much of the evidence would be objected to and the “credibility” of the victims questioned.
Magistrate Robert Stone warned the public Mr Harrison’s opening statement was just a “summary” and not evidence. It was “significantly objected” to and may not even be allowed to be considered during the trial.
The Archbishop refused to answer questions outside court as he was flanked by another senior official Monsignor David Cappo.
The trial continues.

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