An Australian archbishop was Tuesday found guilty of covering up child sex abuse in the 1970s—one of the highest-ranked church officials globally to be successfully prosecuted for such offences.
Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson, 67, was accused of concealing abuse by notorious paedophile priest Jim Fletcher in the Hunter region of New South Wales state by failing to report the allegations.
Wilson, now archbishop of Adelaide, becomes the most senior Catholic archbishop in the world to be charged and convicted of the offence.
During his trial he denied being told about the abuse by some of the victims. His legal team made four attempts to have the case thrown out, arguing Wilson’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s should preclude him from trial. Wilson will be sentenced in June and faces a maximum two-year jail term.
Last month, Wilson told the Newcastle Local Court he had no knowledge of priest James Fletcher’s actions, which took place when he was an assistant priest in Maitland, 130km north of Sydney.
Fletcher was later convicted of nine child sexual abuse charges in 2004, and died in jail in 2006.One of his victims, former altar boy Peter Creigh, told the court he had described the abuse to Wilson in detail in 1976.
Magistrate Robert Stone rejected Wilson’s claims that he had no memory of the conversation, and said he had found Creigh to be a reliable witness.
“The priest knew what he was hearing was a credible allegation and the accused wanted to protect the Church and its reputation,” Magistrate Stone said.
Another victim, who cannot be named, told the court he disclosed the abuse in the confessional box when he was 11 years old.
In a statement issued by the Church, Wilson said he was “obviously disappointed” with the verdict and would consider his legal options. – Agencies