MELBOURNE – The archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson has been found guilty of concealing child sexual abuse during the 1970s in the Hunter region of New South Wales.
Magistrate Robert Stone handed down the verdict in Newcastle local court on Tuesday after a magistrate-only trial. Wilson faces a maximum two years in prison.
The prosecutor, Gareth Harrison, told the court the 67-year-old had to be jailed for what he had done to deter others from trying to protect the Catholic church from abuse allegations.
The clergyman is the most senior Catholic official in the world to be charged and convicted of the offence.
In a brief statement, Wilson said he would consider the reasons for the magistrate’s ruling. “I am obviously disappointed at the decision published today,” he said. “I will now have to consider the reasons and consult closely with my lawyers to determine the next steps.”
During his trial he denied any memory of being told about the abuse by two of the boys.
He told the Newcastle Local Court he had not been aware of priest James Fletcher’s abuse, which took place while he was an assistant priest in Maitland.
Fletcher was convicted of nine child sexual abuse charges in 2004, and died in jail in 2006.
One of his victims, Peter Creigh, told the court he had described the abuse to Wilson in detail when he was 15, five years after the abuse.
The judge rejected Wilson’s assertion that he could not remember the conversation, and said he found Mr. 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 according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Wilson’s lawyers had attempted four times to get the case thrown out after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He will be sentenced in June and faces a maximum two-year jail term.