An archbishop in court, charged with concealing a priest's child-abuse, but a witness has suddenly died

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 13 November 2017

An Australian Catholic archbishop, Most Reverend Philip Wilson, is required to face a court in late 2017, charged with allegedly concealing a colleague's child-sex abuse 40 years ago. Police allege that Wilson knew about (but kept quiet about) offences committed by Father James Fletcher in New South Wales during the 1970s. Wilson's lawyers have been trying to stop the concealment charge but now the case is ready to proceed in court on Monday 27 November 2017. Meanwhile, another priest (Father Glen Walsh), who was scheduled to give evidence soon in Archbishop Wilson’s concealment trial, has suddenly died just a few weeks before the Wilson hearing begins. A coroner's inquest is to be held to investigate the circumstances of Father Walsh's death. Some more information about Fr Glen Walsh is given at the end of this Broken Rites article.

According to the NSW Courts website, Archbishop Wilson's concealment charge is listed for a mention in the Newcastle Local Court on Monday 27 November 2017. The court's case number is 2015/00080438. This hearing is being conducted by a magistrate, who will decide whether there is sufficient evidence for the case to go to a judge in a higher court, which would be a District Court.

Archbishop Wilson is understood to be the most senior Catholic leader worldwide to face court over a concealment allegation of this type.

In court in 2015, New South Wales police filed a charge against Archbishop Philip Edward Wilson for allegedly concealing information about the 1970s sex assault of a 10-year-old boy by pedophile priest James Fletcher in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, in New South Wales. In the 1970s, both Father Wilson and Father Fletcher were priests in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese. This was not Father Fletcher's only victim; Father Fletcher is known to have had an extensive history of committing sexual crimes against boys, particularly altar boys.

Police allege that Father Philip Wilson became aware of Fletcher's abuse, concerning one of these boys, but Wilson allegedly kept quiet about it.

On 25 September 2015, the concealment charge had its first mention in Newcastle Local Court for a preliminary procedure. Since then, Wilson has been taking legal action (but unsuccessfully) to block the case.

Some background

After beginning his priestly career in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, Father Philip Wilson became the Bishop of Wollongong, south of Sydney. Since 2001, he has been Archbishop of Adelaide. In 2015, he took leave from the position of archbishop, because of the court proceedings but, by the end of that year, he decided to resume acting as the archbishop of Adelaide, although he has not yet been cleared by the courts. Now, in late 2017, he has taken leave again because of his court case beginning in November 2017.

Father James Fletcher was eventually jailed for some (but not all) of his child sexual-abuse. Fletcher died in jail.

In 2012, the New South Wales Government established a Special Commission of Inquiry to investigate the alleged cover-up of clergy sexual abuse in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese. It was alleged that the church hierarchy relocated some abusive priests and turned a blind eye to abuse. The commission's report was submitted to the state government in 2014. The inquiry found that some senior church officials did have information that would have assisted a police investigation of child sexual abuse.

To read more about Father James Fletcher (and one of his many victims), click HERE.

Death of Fr Glen Walsh

Retired priest Father Glen Walsh, who was due to give evidence for the prosecution at Philip Wilson's "concealment" court case, died suddenly on 6 November 2017, just weeks before the Wilson case was due to begin.

Reporting the death, the Newcastle Herald stated (on 8 November 2017):

"There are no suspicious circumstances. Maitland-Newcastle diocese confirmed his death and the Coroner’s investigation but made no further comment. Father Walsh is believed to have taken his own life."

Former Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, who investigated the pedophile priest Fr James Fletcher, has praised Fr Glen Walsh's work in fighting clergy child-abuse.

After hearing of Fr Glen Walsh's death, Mr Fox said:

"He [Father Walsh] was instrumental in bringing a further victim of Father Fletcher to myself when I was investigating Fletcher - it made a huge difference [in Fletcher's trial]."

Mr Fox said:

"His [Fr Glen Walsh's] duty wasn't first to the church. His duty was first to the abuse victims and to his God. And he did what he believed to be ethically right - even if it did damage the church. He had a very strong sense of right and wrong, and followed that path."

Broken Rites has traced Father Glen Walsh's parish appointments by searching through the annual editions of the printed Australian Catholic Directory. Fr Walsh belonged to the Maitland-Newcastle diocese, which covers a group of parishes around the Hunter Valley and the adjacent NSW coast). He was first listed in the directory in early-1998 as an assistant priest at the Gateshead/Windale parish (south of the city of Newcastle). In early-1999, he was listed at Newcastle's Sacred Heart Cathedral.

In 2000 and 2001, he was listed as a chaplain at St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, in Sydney. After this, he spent several years "on leave".

In 2007, he was listed as an assistant priest at Rockdale-Arncliffe parish (in the Sydney diocese). In 2009 and early-2010, he was an assistant priest at Sydney's Carringbah parish. After this, he was listed as "on leave" until the 2014 directory listed him as "retired".