He had appealed against the decision of the lower court for concealing the sexual abuse of two altar boys by paedophile priest James Fletcher in the 1970s.

Australian Archbishop cleared of child sex abuse cover-up
Australian Archbishop cleared of child sex abuse cover-up

An Australian appeal court on Thursday, December 12, 2018, overturned a conviction against the most senior Roman Catholic cleric ever who was found guilty of covering up child sex abuse.

New South Wales state District Court Judge Roy Ellis upheld former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson’s appeal against his May conviction in a lower court for concealing the sexual abuse of two altar boys by a paedophile priest in the 1970s. Judge Ellis found there was reasonable doubt that the 68-year-old cleric had committed the crime, which is punishable by up to two years in prison.

Archbishop Wilson has served almost four months of a year-long home detention sentence at his sister’s house outside Newcastle. He was to become eligible for parole after serving six months.

The judge also dismissed a prosecution appeal against the leniency of the sentence.

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Archbishop Wilson was allowed to watch the decision via a video link from a remote location so he could avoid media cameras at the Newcastle court. Archbishop Wilson has always maintained his innocence and after his conviction had initially refused calls for his resignation until he had exhausted his appeal options. But he quit in July after then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on the Vatican to act.

Administrator Delegate of the Adelaide Archdiocese Philip Marshall, Archbishop Wilson’s replacement said the church noted the judgment and welcomed the conclusion of a process that had been long and painful for all concerned.

“We now need to consider the ramifications of this outcome,” he said in a statement. “The survivors of child sexual abuse and their families are in our thoughts and prayers, and the archdiocese remains committed to providing the safest possible environments for children and vulnerable people in our care,” he added.

The prosecution said that Archbishop Wilson was told by two altar boys in 1976 that they had been abused by paedophile priest James Fletcher but did nothing about it. It was alleged he subsequently failed to go to the police after Fletcher was arrested in 2004 for abusing another boy.

Fletcher was convicted in 2004 of sexually abusing another boy and died of a stroke in prison in 2006.

The defense lawyers had argued Archbishop Wilson was not guilty because the evidence was circumstantial and there was no evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the clergyman was told about the abuse, believed it was true or remembered being told about it.

During Archbishop Wilson’s two-day appeal last week, prosecutor Helen Roberts urged judge Ellis to consider how the magistrate had the benefit of watching both the clergyman and one of the victims during the trial. The magistrate had raised doubts about the cleric’s credibility before finding him guilty.


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