Australian archbishop Philip Wilson guilty of covering up child sex abuse

The archbishop covered up his colleague's abuse since the 1970s and now faces up to two years in prison 

Archbishop Philip Wilson faces a maximum of two years in prison.
Archbishop Philip Wilson faces a maximum of two years in prison.

The archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson has been found guilty of concealing child sex abuse since the 1970s in Australia.

Magistrate Robert Stone handed down the verdict in Newcastle local court on Tuesday following a magistrate-only trial. Wilson faces a maximum two years in prison.

The 67-year-old archbishop has become the most senior Catholic in the world to be charged and convicted of the offence.

He was found to have covered up the abuse of altar boys by the paedophile priest colleague in New South Wales.

During his trial he denied being told about the abuse by some of the victims.

In a statement issued by the church on Wednesday, Wilson said he was "obviously disappointed" with the verdict and would consider his legal options.

“I will now have to consider the reasons and consult closely with my lawyers to determine the next steps.”

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, five years after it took place.

Wilson has been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and claimed to have no memory of a 1976 conversation he had with Peter Creigh, one of the alleged victims.

Wilson’s legal team had tried four times to have the case thrown out, including on grounds of his Alzheimer’s, even though he maintained the impairment was not severe enough to stand down from his job.

Another victim, who cannot be named, told the court he disclosed the abuse in the confessional box when he was 11 years old. He said Wilson told him he was telling lies and to recite 10 Hail Mary prayers as punishment.

Former NSW police detective chief inspector Peter Fox, who had previously alleged the church covered up Fletcher’s offending, said he was “delighted” by the court’s decision because someone within the church was being held to account.

“It’s a major turning point. It’s been very difficult for so many of these witnesses; I can’t tell you how difficult it’s been,” Fox said. “I am confident this will make waves in the Vatican.”

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