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Growing Calls for Australian Archbishop Who Concealed Child Abuse to Resign

FILE - Archbishop Philip Wilson arrives at Newcastle Local Court in Newcastle, Australia, May 22, 2018.
FILE - Archbishop Philip Wilson arrives at Newcastle Local Court in Newcastle, Australia, May 22, 2018.

The Australian archbishop convicted for covering up child abuse says he will appeal his sentence and will not resign. His defiance has prompted criticism from the Prime Minister and other political leaders, who are urging Philip Wilson to quit. He is the most senior Catholic in the world to be convicted of concealing child sexual abuse.

Archbishop Wilson has been given a maximum sentence of 12 months in custody, but is likely to avoid jail and serve his time in home detention.

He has said he would only resign if his appeal against his conviction for covering up child abuse fails. It is, however, a stance that has been widely condemned. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he was surprised the 67-year old Catholic cleric had decided not to quit immediately, and urged him to do so. There is also mounting pressure within the Catholic Church for Wilson to stand down from a position he has held for 18 years.

Members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, which represents the Church's hierarchy, are also reported to have advised him to resign.

This week, a magistrate said Wilson had shown no remorse for concealing the crimes of a pedophile priest who had attacked altar boys in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney in the 1970s. The court in the city of Newcastle said that the archbishop's "primary motive" at the time when he was a junior priest was to protect the reputation of the Catholic Church.

The New South Wales Police Minister Troy Grant is a former police officer who investigated pedophilia in the region more than 20 years ago.

He says Wilson has got off lightly.

"He has got a legal right to appeal the conviction. That is clear. But I think what is also clear is that he has been found guilty, and the sentence that was handed down is manifestly insufficient," said Grant. "It is actually insulting and having been the police officer that uncovered the hideous concealment of these crimes in the Maitland/Newcastle Diocese back in 1995, I am extremely disappointed, and particularly disappointed that our justice system has let down those countless victims once again."

Survivors of clergy abuse also have said they are disappointed at the sentence. One said that if the archbishop does not resign then the Catholic Church would become a "bigger laughing stock than it already is." Some survivors have urged the Vatican to intervene and for Pope Francis to order Wilson to resign. Experts have said that only the Pope can force a bishop to quit.

The case is due to return to court on August 14 while Wilson is being assessed for home detention.

Legal analysts have said the Archbishop's conviction for concealing child abuse has proved that in Australia "nobody is above the law."