Former Archbishop Has Conviction for Hiding Child Sex Abuse Quashed

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In this Aug. 14 photo, the former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson leaves court in Newcastle, Australia, after a post-sentence decision.

In this Aug. 14 photo, the former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson leaves court in Newcastle, Australia, after a post-sentence decision.


Photo:

Darren Pateman/Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia—A senior Catholic official convicted of concealing child sex abuse has successfully appealed his case and will walk free, in a blow to the global campaign alleging pedophilia coverups in the church.

Former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson, 68, in May became the first Roman Catholic archbishop to be found guilty of concealing child sex abuse. A court had ruled he failed to alert police about the abuse of altar boys in the 1970s by another priest, James Patrick Fletcher, who died in prison in 2006.

In July, Pope Francis accepted Mr. Wilson’s resignation following pressure from Australia’s then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Mr. Wilson later lodged an appeal against his conviction and sentence of home detention.


“If a person has no memory of an event or occasion, they aren’t able to say why.”


—Judge Roy Ellis

In a judgment Thursday at a court in Newcastle, an appeal judge said it couldn’t be proven beyond doubt that Mr. Wilson had been explicitly told of the abuse, given the passage of time, his age and diagnosis of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. He also discounted testimony from witnesses, saying Mr. Wilson’s evidence laid out a “strong platform for him to be an honest witness.”

“If a person has no memory of an event or occasion, they aren’t able to say why,” Judge Roy Ellis told the court. “Logically they can only admit that they have no memory. There is no proper basis on which I can rely to reject the evidence of the appellant.”

The Catholic Church has been rocked by allegations of sexual abuse and coverups across the world, often dating back decades.

The Adelaide Catholic Archdiocese administrator, Rev. Philip Marshall, released a statement after the decision saying the church is considering the judgment. An appeal by prosecutors is also possible.

“We welcome the conclusion of a process that has been long and painful for all concerned,” Father Marshall said. “The survivors of child sexual abuse and their families are in our thoughts and prayers.”

Write to Rob Taylor at rob.taylor@wsj.com