Australian prime minister calls on pope to fire archbishop

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia's prime minister on Thursday called on Pope Francis to fire an Australian archbishop who is the most senior Roman Catholic cleric ever convicted for covering up child sexual abuse.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said two weeks ago that Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson should have resigned when he was convicted in May of failing to report to police the repeated abuse of two altar boys by a pedophile priest in the Hunter Valley region north of Sydney during the 1970s.

Turnbull said on Thursday the 67-year-old cleric should not be allowed to remain an archbishop while he appealed against his conviction.

"He should have resigned and the time has come for the pope to sack him," Turnbull told reporters.

"There are many leaders that have called on him to resign, it's clear that he should resign and I think the time has come now for the ultimate authority in the church to take action and sack him," Turnbull added.

Wilson has said he would only offer his resignation to Francis if his appeal fails in the New South Wales state District Court.

"I am conscious of calls for me to resign and have taken them very seriously," Wilson said in a statement this month.

"However, at this time, I am entitled to exercise my legal rights and to follow the due process of law. Since that process is not yet complete, I do not intend to resign at this time," he added.

Wilson has been sentenced in a Newcastle court to 12 months in detention.

He remains free on bail and will return to court next month to find out whether he will serve his sentence in prison or at his sister's house in home detention. He must serve a minimum of six months before becoming eligible for parole.

Turnbull is a former lawyer who was born a Presbyterian but converted to Catholicism — his wife's religion — in 2002.

Catholicism in the largest denomination in Christian-majority Australia.

Wilson stood down from his position as archbishop days after he was convicted.

New South Wales Police Minister Troy Grant, who was a police detective in the 1990s when he uncovered widespread church child molesting in the Hunter Valley, has condemned the Vatican's support of Wilson.

"I'm ... disappointed that the response from the Roman Catholic Church in their future plans for this offender nowhere meets community standards or expectations," Grant said two weeks ago.

The federal government has initiated a redress scheme involving churches and other nongovernment organizations to pay billions of dollars in compensation to victims of child sex abuse in Australian institutions.

Wilson was once Australia's highest-ranking archbishop as president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

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