SYDNEY – An Australian court overturned on Thursday former archbishop of Australia Philip Wilson’s conviction for covering up cases of child sexual abuse to protect the Church.
The judge also revoked his one-year sentence, which he had been serving in home detention.
In May, a police investigation – conducted between 2004-2006 – had found the 68-year-old guilty of covering up sexual abuse of two altar boys by priest James Fletcher in the 1970s.
Newcastle District Court judge Roy Ellis upheld on Thursday Wilson’s appeal and quashed the sentence given by a lower court, New South Wales judicial sources told EFE.
The judge said prosecutors were unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt the culpability of the accused, and called the former archbishop an “honest and consistent witness.”
“There is no proper basis on which I can rely to reject the evidence of (Father Wilson),” Ellis said, according to national broadcaster ABC.
Wilson, the highest official of the Catholic Church to be convicted of crimes related to child sexual abuse in Australia, had said during the trial that he did not remember the victims complaining to him about the abuse.
Fletcher was convicted of the abuse in 2004 and died in prison two years later.
The prosecutors, who had also filed a petition for Wilson to be transferred to a prison, refused to tell EFE if they would challenge the verdict.
Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse reported that the Catholic Church received complaints from 4,500 people for alleged abuses committed by some 1,880 priests between 1980-2015.
On July 30, Pope Francis had accepted Wilson’s resignation as the Archbishop of Adelaide.