A Roman Catholic archbishop in Australia on Friday failed for a second time to stop a criminal prosecution against him over allegations he covered up for a pedophile priest in the 1970s. Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson, 66, was charged in April last year with concealing serious child sexual abuse in 1971. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge, which carries a potential two-year prison sentence. New South Wales state Supreme Court Justice Monika Schmidt on Friday rejected Wilson’s bid to have the charge dropped. The judge dismissed his appeal against a court decision in February to not stop the proceedings. That decision ruled that elements of the charge may be able to be proved.
Schmidt rejected the argument of Wilson’s lawyers that the original court erred in finding the charge was valid. The charge alleges that as a young priest, Wilson concealed information about the sexual assault of a 10-year-old boy by the now-dead pedophile priest James Fletcher in the New South Wales town of Maitland, north of Sydney. Prosecutors allege Wilson had information that might have helped them secure a conviction against Fletcher between 2004 and 2006.
Fletcher died in prison aged 65 in 2006, a year into an almost eight-year sentence for raping an altar boy between 1989 and 1991. The prosecution case includes allegations that a young parishioner told Wilson in 1976 about being abused by Fletcher when the victim was an altar boy five years earlier. Wilson is the most senior Catholic cleric worldwide to be charged with covering up for a pedophile, said The Tablet, a London-based international Catholic newspaper.
Wilson’s lawyers argue that the prosecution would fail because the prosecution evidence was incapable of establishing that Wilson had the “requisite belief” that Fletcher had committed the 1971 offense. “Mere suspicion” on Wilson’s part was not sufficient to prove the charge, they said. Wilson is one of Australia’s most senior bishops, serving as president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference from 2006 until 2012. He took extended leave after he was charged, but returned to public ministry in Adelaide in January.