Adelaide Archbishop Philip Edward Wilson has been found guilty of concealing child sexual abuse allegations against another priest after a landmark hearing in Newcastle court.
Archbishop Wilson was Bishop of Wollongong between 1997 and 2000.
Archbishop Wilson – who was the most senior Catholic cleric to be charged with failing to report child sexual abuse to police – showed no emotion as Magistrate Robert Stone delivered his lengthy judgement on Tuesday in front of a packed courtroom.
Meanwhile, a number of people in the courtroom, including Peter Creigh, broke down in tears.
It is a decision that could have wide-reaching implications for other high-ranking clergy members.
The 67-year-old Archbishop was accused of failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse against paedophile priest Father Jim Fletcher, who died in jail in 2006.
Mr Creigh, a former altar boy, who bravely waived his right to a non-publication order on his name, had told the eight-day hearing that in 1976 he told Archbishop Wilson, then a junior priest at St Joseph’s Church, East Maitland, that Father Fletcher had subjected him to acts of punishment and sexual abuse about five years earlier.
There was no dispute during the hearing that Fletcher, a notorious paedophile, had sexually abused the then 10-year-old Mr Creigh.
Instead, the hearing focused on whether the conversation between Mr Creigh and Archbishop Wilson took place and whether the Archbishop remembered the allegation and believed it was true between 2004 and 2006.
Under questioning from his barrister, Stephen Odgers, SC, Archbishop Wilson had unequivocally denied having any memory of a conversation in 1976 with Mr Creigh about Father James Fletcher subjecting him to sexual abuse.
When asked if he was able to say whether such a conversation took place, Archbishop Wilson said he thought it was doubtful.
“I think it is unlikely because the nature of the evidence was so graphic,” he told Magistrate Robert Stone.
“I don't think I would have forgotten that.”
The prosecution had to overcome a number of significant hurdles in their bid to convict Archbishop Wilson.
Not only did Crown prosecutor Gareth Harrison have to prove that Mr Creigh told Archbishop Wilson about the sexual abuse in 1976, but that Archbishop Wilson remembered it and had a belief that the allegations were true between 2004 and 2006, after Fletcher had been charged with child sex offences and before his death in jail.
But ultimately, Mr Stone found the prosecution were able to clear those hurdles.
During his lengthy judgement, Mr Stone said Mr Creigh was “truthful and reliable” when giving evidence on the important issues in the hearing.
More to come.