Australia’s Roman Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, was convicted for covering up a claim of decades-old sexual abuse Tuesday.
“This conviction in an Australian court signals that it’s time for the Vatican to show it is serious about acting on child sexual abuse, and accept Wilson’s resignation,” Chris MacIsaac, a spokeswoman for victims’ advocacy group Broken Rites, said.
The clergyman is the highest-ranking Catholic official to be convicted on that charge, according to the New York Times.
Wilson was accused of covering up abuses committed in the 1970s by priest Jim Fletcher in the state of New South Wales. The archbishop was accused, in 2010, of allegedly covering up at least two old cases of sexual abuse against children before being formally charged in 2015.
Wilson, who now faces up to two years in prison, said he was disappointed by the conviction.
“I will now have to consider the reasons and consult closely with my lawyers to determine the next steps.” The archbishop was released on bail until a sentencing hearing on June 9.
One former altar boy, Peter Creigh, testified that he had recounted instances of abuse in 1976 to Wilson, who was at the time a parish priest. Prosecutors argued that the archbishop was repeatedly told of sexual misconduct by Fletcher, but failed to inform authorities.
The archbishop, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, claims to have no memory of the conversation with Creigh. “The decision will hopefully unravel the hypocrisy, the deceit, and the abuse of power and trust that the church has displayed,” Creigh told reporters.
Fletcher died in 2006, after serving almost eight years in prison following being convicted on nine counts of child sexual abuse.
Last month, Australian Cardinal George Pell, who is the Vatican’s de facto finance chief, was ordered to stand trial on charges of “historical sexual abuse.”