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Evasive archbishop 'cat on a hot tin roof'

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April 13, 2018

A NSW magistrate has been told he should doubt the honesty of Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson.

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson has been accused of acting like a "cat on a hot tin roof" when trying to absolve himself of guilt over claims he covered up child sex abuse by a pedophile priest.

Prosecutor Gareth Harrison told Newcastle Local Court that Wilson was a "consummate Catholic politician" who had ducked and weaved when trying not to incriminate himself.

"The accused (Wilson) was part of an entrenched, toxic culture of covering things up," Mr Harrison said during his closing address on Friday.

"Victims come second."

The prosecutor said Wilson, the most senior Catholic official in the world to be charged with concealing abuse, had maintained a "cover-up attitude" since 1976 when he was an assistant priest in the NSW Hunter region.

"Your honour should have doubts about his (Wilson's) honesty," Mr Harrison told magistrate Robert Stone.

The prosecutor asked Mr Stone to take into account Wilson's evasiveness in the witness box when assessing his credibility.

The archbishop is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease but claims medication has helped his memory.

He told the court he can't remember two altar boys telling him in 1976 they were abused by pedophile priest James Fletcher.

The defence argues Wilson is not guilty because the case is circumstantial and there's no evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the archbishop was told about the abuse, believed it was true or remembered being told about it.

In his closing address, defence barrister Stephen Odgers SC said Wilson hadn't been ducking and weaving questions but rather being careful to give precise answers.

Mr Odgers said even if the magistrate had serious doubts about Wilson's honesty there was no proof beyond a reasonable doubt he was lying.

He urged Mr Stone to accept the archbishop was an honest person despite the mud thrown at him by the prosecutor.

One of the abused altar boys, Peter Creigh, said he trusted that Wilson would take action after telling him in 1976 about Fletcher's abuse. But the clergyman did nothing and never reported the matter to police

Mr Harrison on Friday said Wilson asked Mr Creigh during the 1976 conversation if he had told anyone else about the abuse because he was "risk assessing".

"He was sussing out how dangerous this situation might be for the church," the prosecutor said.

"He didn't want Mr Creigh to tell anyone because it would be an embarrassment to the church to say the least.

"The accused wanted it kept in-house. He wanted it covered up, which is why he did what he did ... nothing."

Another altar boy, who can't be named, said he was about 11 in 1976 when he went into the confessional box to tell Wilson that Fletcher had abused him.

The witness claimed Wilson refused to believe him because Fletcher "was a good bloke" and ordered him to get out of the confessional box and say 10 Hail Marys as an act of contrition.

Fletcher was found guilty in December 2004 of nine counts of child sexual abuse and died in jail of a stroke in January 2006.

Wilson faces a maximum two years in jail if convicted. Mr Stone on Friday reserved his decision.

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