MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson said on Wednesday he would stand aside from his duties, a day after a court found him guilty of concealing child sex abuse by a priest.
Wilson, who faces up to two years in prison, said he was still considering the court’s reasons for the judgement.
“While I do so, it is appropriate that, in the light of some of his honour’s findings, I stand aside from my duties as archbishop,” Wilson said in a statement emailed to media.
The archbishop of Adelaide, the capital of South Australia state, and former president of the Catholic Church’s top body in Australia, said he will permanently resign as archbishop if it becomes “necessary or appropriate”.
Wilson was accused of covering up a serious indictable offence by another priest, James Fletcher, after being told about it in 1976 when he was an assistant parish priest in the state of New South Wales.
Lawyers for Wilson, 67, had argued that he did not know that Fletcher had abused a boy. Fletcher was found guilty in 2004 of nine counts of child sexual abuse and died in jail in 2006 following a stroke.
Wilson is expected to be sentenced in June by a local court in the city of Newcastle, New South Wales.
Last year, Australia completed a five-year government-appointed inquiry into child sex abuse in churches and other institutions, amid allegations worldwide that churches had protected paedophile priests by moving them from parish to parish.
The inquiry heard that seven percent of Catholic priests working in Australia between 1950 and 2010 had been accused of child sex crimes and that nearly 1,100 people had filed child sexual assault claims against the Anglican Church over 35 years.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Additional reporting by Colin Packham in Sydney; Editing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry)