World News

Australian Archbishop Found Guilty of Sexual Abuse Cover-Up

Posted May 21, 2018 11:44 p.m. EDT

MELBOURNE, Australia — An Australian archbishop was convicted on Tuesday 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.

The decision comes in the midst of a global reckoning for the Roman Catholic Church, as it grapples with a history of child sexual abuse and cover-ups. Cardinal George Pell, also an Australian and the Vatican’s de facto finance chief, was ordered last month to stand trial on charges of “historical sexual abuse.”

Wilson, 67, was accused of covering up abuse by a priest, Jim Fletcher, in the state of New South Wales in the 1970s.

The case against the archbishop was especially surprising, given his reputation for acknowledging and apologizing to the victims of pedophile priests.

As the bishop of Wollongong, a town about 50 miles south of Sydney, he issued a formal apology to the diocese’s victims.

Wilson came under scrutiny in 2010 on accusations of covering up two old cases of sexual abuse against children. In 2015, police formally charged him with concealing a serious offense regarding child sexual abuse.

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.

Creigh was 10 years old at the time.

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.”

The archbishop, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, testified that he had no memory of the conversation with Creigh.

Fletcher died in 2006, just a year after being sentenced for the rape of a 13-year-old boy in the late 1980s.

Wilson, who vehemently denied the accusations against him and made four attempts to have the charges dismissed, faces a maximum sentence of two years.

The outcome was closely watched by survivors of sexual abuse, who said the decision should spur the church to take further action.

“This conviction in an Australian court signals that it’s time for the Vatican to show it is serious about acting on child sexual abuse, and accept Wilson’s resignation,” said Chris MacIsaac, a spokeswoman for Broken Rites, a victims’ advocacy group.