An Australian court has found a Catholic archbishop Philip Wilson guilty of concealing child sexual abuse in the 1970s and could jail him for up to two years.
Wilson, the archbishop of Adelaide, becomes the most senior Catholic in the world to be charged and convicted of the offence.
He was found to have covered up the abuse of altar boys by a paedophile priest colleague in New South Wales.
During his trial he denied being told about the abuse by some of the victims.
In a statement issued by the church on Wednesday, Wilson said he was “obviously disappointed” with the verdict and would consider his legal options.
‘Wanted to protect the church’
Last month, Wilson told the Newcastle Local Court he had no knowledge of priest James Fletcher’s actions, which took place when he was an assistant priest in Maitland, 130km (80 miles) north of Sydney.
Fletcher was later convicted of nine child sexual abuse charges in 2004, and died in jail in 2006.
One of his victims, former altar boy Peter Creigh, told the court he had described the abuse to Wilson in detail in 1976, five years after it took place.
Magistrate Robert Stone rejected Wilson’s claims that he had no memory of the conversation, and said he found Mr Creigh to be a reliable witness.
The priest knew “what he was hearing was a credible allegation and the accused wanted to protect the Church and its reputation”, Magistrate Stone said.
Another victim, who cannot be named, told the court he disclosed the abuse in the confessional box when he was 11 years old. He said Wilson told him he was telling lies and to recite 10 Hail Mary prayers as punishment.
Child sexual abuse survivors praised the verdict in emotional scenes outside the court following the decision.
“The decision will hopefully unravel the hypocrisy, the deceit, and the abuse of power and trust that the church has displayed,” Mr Creigh told reporters.
Wilson’s lawyers had tried to get the case thrown out on four occasions, after the 67-year-old was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
He will be sentenced in June and faces a maximum two-year jail term.