Australia 'Dark secret': child abuse survivor's plea to Pope

17:42  06 july  2018
17:42  06 july  2018 Source:   brisbanetimes.com.au

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Archbishop Philip Wilson leaves court after sentencing on Tuesday.© AAP Archbishop Philip Wilson leaves court after sentencing on Tuesday.

Child sexual abuse survivor Peter Gogarty has gone straight to the Pope with a plea for him to sack Archbishop Philip Wilson, and an offer to discuss the reasons why over the phone.

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Mr Gogarty has included his mobile phone number in a letter to Pope Francis after Wilson refused to resign following a jail sentence for concealing Catholic priest Jim Fletcher’s child sex crimes. He intends to appeal the conviction.

“As the only person in the world who can take decisive action in this regard, I urge you to dismiss him from his post immediately,” wrote Mr Gogarty, who was sexually abused by Fletcher in the 1970s, and whose calls for Wilson to resign or be dismissed were backed this week by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

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“You, as Pope, as head of a so-called sovereign state, as the head of the Vatican and of the worldwide Catholic community, must know that the already shattered reputation of your institution is being further eroded by Wilson’s decision,” Mr Gogarty wrote.

He told the Pope he “carried my dark secret for 30 years” before Fletcher was charged in 2003 with child sex crimes after Daniel Feenan reported him to police. Fletcher was convicted of the offences and died in jail in 2006.

Peter Gogarty outside court after Archbishop Wilson was sentenced.© AAP Peter Gogarty outside court after Archbishop Wilson was sentenced.

“Imagine if you can your own childhood, your Catholic upbringing and the character-destroying belief that you were engaged in the worst of mortal sins,” Mr Gogarty wrote to Pope Francis.

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“I find it difficult to adequately describe the extent of the harm done to me – a quiet child in a devout and strict Catholic family. Shame, guilt, complicity, sinfulness, self-loathing.

“I am now 57 years old and continue to struggle with the burden forced upon me. That Archbishop Wilson knew of Fletcher’s crimes while I was still being abused, that a number of other boys were subsequently abused and that he has shown not the slightest remorse, heightens my sense of betrayal by the church, and leaves me enraged for the suffering of other men.”

Mr Gogarty noted Newcastle Local Court magistrate Robert Stone’s finding that Wilson’s primary motive in failing to report 1976 allegations about Fletcher to police in 2004 was to protect the church.

He also advised the Pope that another Hunter Catholic priest, Father Glen Walsh, was also a victim of the church’s child sexual abuse tragedy, after Father Walsh committed suicide only weeks before he was due to give damning evidence in the Wilson trial.

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In 2017 Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright acknowledged Father Walsh was ostracised by other clergy for being a “whistleblower” who reported Fletcher’s crimes to police in 2004. Father Walsh was due to give evidence that he also reported the allegations to Wilson.

Mr Gogarty told the Pope that Wilson was entitled to exercise his legal right to appeal Mr Stone’s decision to the District Court, but the archbishop’s refusal to resign despite calls by senior Australian politicians, abuse survivors, senior Jesuit Frank Brennan and a number of other bishops was “self-serving”.

Mr Feenan on Thursday called on Pope Francis to act, and noted Bishop Wright’s statement this week acknowledging shock and grief in the diocese not only for two boys who reported Fletcher’s crimes to Wilson in 1976, but others sexually abused after that time, including Mr Feenan.

“Fletcher went on to abuse other boys (after the 1976 reports), and we grieve for the harm done to them as we realise the dreadful truth that this could have been prevented by timely action against Fletcher,” Bishop Wright said.

Mr Feenan wept in court on May 22 after Wilson was found guilty, and spoke outside court about the agony of knowing the crimes against him as a child could have been prevented.

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