VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis on Monday accepted the resignation of an Australian archbishop convicted in criminal court of covering up the sexual abuse of children by a priest, taking action after coming under mounting pressure from ordinary Catholics, priests, and even the Australian prime minister.
It was the second major announcement of a sex abuse-related resignation in as many days, after Francis’ dramatic sanctioning and demotion this weekend of a prominent US cardinal. The move suggests Francis is keen to clean house before he heads to Dublin next month for a big Catholic family rally were the sex abuse scandal is likely to dominate the agenda given Ireland’s devastating history with predator priests and the bishops who covered for them.
In Australia, Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson was convicted in May and sentenced to a year’s detention for failing to report to police the repeated abuse of two altar boys by a pedophile priest, the late Rev. James Fletcher, in the Hunter Valley region north of Sydney during the 1970s. He became the highest-ranking Catholic cleric ever convicted in a criminal court of abuse cover-up.
Wilson, who denied the accusations, had immediately stepped aside after he was convicted but refused to resign pending an appeal. As recently as last week, though, Wilson acknowledged that calls for his sacking were increasing, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull added his voice to the chorus July 19 in urging Francis to fire him.