Former Wollongong, Adelaide leader ministered for 45 years
News of the death of Archbishop Philip Wilson, former Bishop of Wollongong and Archbishop of Adelaide, has been met with sadness across the Catholic community.
Archbishop Wilson died in Adelaide on 17 January at the age of 70. A statement from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said that while he had suffered a series of health problems in recent years, including cancer, his death “was unexpected”.
Born in the Hunter region of New South Wales, as a youth Philip Wilson studied at St Columba’s College, Springwood and St Patrick’s College Manly before being ordained a priest of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
Ordained Bishop of Wollongong in 1996, he was seen as an important figure in introducing reforms to help the Catholic Church respond to the issue of child sexual abuse. In 2001, he was appointed Archbishop of Adelaide, a post he held until his resignation in 2018.
“[Archbishop Wilson] made major contributions to the Church and the wider communities.” – Archbishop Patrick O’Regan
He served as president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference for two terms, from 2006 to 2010.
“We know that Philip was much loved by people across the country, but especially in the places he served – in Maitland-Newcastle, in Wollongong and here in Adelaide,” said Archbishop Patrick O’Regan, who last year succeeded Archbishop Wilson.
“He made major contributions to the Church and the wider communities in which he ministered, and was seen as a valuable part of the Bishops Conference, including during four years as president of the national assembly of about 40 bishops.”
Archbishop O’Regan said while his predecessor had been charged with failing to respond adequately to allegations of child sexual abuse while a priest in the Hunter region, he was acquitted of all charges.
“A harrowing period of allegations, charges, conviction and eventually acquittal was a significant chapter on Philip’s life, but his record of supporting and advocating on behalf of victims and survivors is part of his legacy,” Archbishop O’Regan said.
“Philip knew what pain many people had endured and suffered as a result of the sickening actions of some within the Church. He was part of the solution, and widely recognised as such.”
Wollongong’s Bishop Brian Mascord asked for prayers “for Philip, the Wilson family and the Archdiocese of Adelaide at this very sad time”.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP recalled Archbishop Wilson’s “paternal” care of the other bishops when he was President of the Bishops’ Conference.
“When I was a young bishop, and especially when I was organising the World Youth Day, he would call out of the blue to ask how I was coping with all the pressure,” he said.
Archbishop Wilson later welcomed Pope Benedict to Australia for World Youth Day in 2008 “with great aplomb”, he added.
Along with Cardinal Pell, Archbishop Wilson was wrongly convicted in the wake of the child sexual abuse crisis,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“It seems to me that involuntarily but in a generous spirit, both men did penance and reparation on behalf of the whole Church for the crimes committed against young people. It is noteworthy that both men were the very ones who, along with Bishop Robinson, led the efforts for reform in this area in the Church in Australia.
“This year’s Plenary Council will in some sense be a memorial to Archbishop Wilson, as it was he who first pressed for one to be held in Australia a century after the last one. May he Rest In Peace.“
Details of Archbishop Wilson’s funeral have not yet been finalised.