MELBOURNE • An Australian archbishop was convicted yesterday of covering up a claim of sexual abuse dating back decades, and now faces a prison sentence of up to two years.
Philip Wilson, the archbishop of Adelaide, is the highest-ranking Catholic official in the world to be convicted of concealing such crimes.
Wilson, 67, was accused of concealing abuse by notorious paedophile priest Jim Fletcher in New South Wales by failing to report the allegations.
Mr Peter Creigh, a former altar boy, testified that he told the archbishop, then a parish priest, in 1976 that Fletcher made him strip and kneel as the priest masturbated in front of him. Mr Creigh was 10 years old then.
Prosecutors said the archbishop was repeatedly told of sexual misconduct by Fletcher, but failed each time to turn over to the authorities "information that might be of material assistance".
He denied the charges and his lawyer tried four times to have the case thrown out, arguing that Wilson had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, which should preclude him from trial, even though it did not stop him retaining his position in the church.
"I am obviously disappointed at the decision," Wilson said in a brief statement. "I will now have to consider the reasons and consult closely with my lawyers to determine the next steps."
There was no dispute that Fletcher, who is now dead, sexually abused Mr Creigh, with the hearing focused on whether Wilson was told about it.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that magistrate Robert Stone found Mr Creigh, who broke down in tears after the verdict, to be a truthful and reliable witness.
NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE