An Australian court has found the Archbishop of Adelaide guilty of concealing child sex abuse by a fellow priest in the 1970s.
Archbishop Philip Wilson was convicted of failing to inform the authorities of allegations against Fr James Fletcher. He had denied being told about the abuse by some of the victims, however Magistrate Robert Stone rejected his claims that he had no memory of the conversations.
Fr Fletcher was convicted of nine charges of child sexual abuse in 2004 and died in jail two years later. One of his victims, Peter Creigh – who waived the right to anonymity – said he had described the abuse to the then Fr Wilson in detail in 1976.
Magistrate Stone said Archbishop Wilson knew “what he was hearing was a credible allegation and the accused wanted to protect the Church and its reputation”. He found that Creigh was a credible and reliable witness.
Another victim said he disclosed abuse in the confessional when he was 11, but Archbishop Wilson told him he was lying and made him recite 10 Hail Marys in reparation.
Archbishop Wilson is the most senior Catholic in world ever convicted of concealing abuse.
In a statement he said: “I am obviously disappointed at the decision published today. I will now have to consider the reasons and consult closely with my lawyers to determine the next steps.”
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, President of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, also said: “Archbishop Philip Wilson has today been found guilty of failing to inform police about allegations of child sexual abuse. Archbishop Wilson maintained his innocence throughout this long judicial process. It is not yet clear if he will appeal the verdict.
“The Catholic Church, like other institutions, has learned a great deal about the tragedy of child sexual abuse and has implemented stronger programs, policies and procedures to protect children and vulnerable adults. The safety of children and vulnerable adults is paramount for the Church and its ministries.”
After the verdict, Creigh said: “The decision will hopefully unravel the hypocrisy, the deceit, and the abuse of power and trust that the Church has displayed.”
Archbishop Wilson faces up to two years in jail when he is sentenced on June 19. Before the start of his trial, the archbishop revealed he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The magistrate has the option of suspending the sentence, but prosecutors want a custodial sentence.