'There Is no Indecent Assault' When Forcing a Child Into Sex Acts in the '70s, Archbishop's Lawyer Claims

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Former Australian archbishop Philip Wilson (C) leaves a court in Newcastle on August 14. - Wilson, a former Australian archbishop convicted of concealing abuse by a notorious paedophile priest in the 1970s, was spared jail on August 14, with a court ruling he can serve his sentence in home detention. Peter Lorimer/AFP/Getty Images

The lawyers appealing the conviction of a former Australian archbishop have claimed forcing a child into a sex act did not constitute indecent assault in the 1970s.

In May last year, Adelaide's Archbishop Philip Wilson was found guilty of concealing sexual abuse by a New South Wales court. Accused of covering up the abuse perpetrated by priest Jim Fletcher in New South Wales's Hunter region in the 1970s, Wilson claimed nobody had put any allegations of sex abuse forward throughout his 40-year spell as clergyman.

However, the court found that in 1976 Peter Creigh, the victim, told Wilson he had been abused, but the latter failed to report it to the police at the time and in 2004 when Fletcher was charged with other sex offences.

Creigh had previously told the court he was "forced" to perform sex acts on Fletcher while serving as an altar boy and Wilson is currently serving a minimum sentence of six months' home detention for concealing the abuse.

However, his lawyers argued on Tuesday that he should not have been found guilty as in the 1970s the acts would have been classified as indecency, instead of assault.

"Unattractive as it, there is no indecent assault," Wilson's lawyer Stephen Odgers SC told the District Court in Newcastle, 90 miles north of Sydney, as reported by ABC Australia.

The defense also argued Wilson might not have reported the incident in 2004 simply because he had forgotten about it, rather than because he was deliberately trying to conceal the alleged abuse. Odgers added his client might have been unaware the information could have helped the police's investigation.

If he remembered the incident, Odgers noted, Wilson might have had a plausible and valid reason not to share the details of the incident with the investigators.

Wilson's lawyer also added the incident described by Creigh could not be classified as indecent assault at the time it unfolded, specifically if it had not been performed under duress.

However, Newcastle District Court Judge Roy Ellis dismissed Odgers' theory and insisted the sex acts would have been assault even in the 1970s, irrespective of whether Fletcher had forcedly coerced Creigh in performing them.

"I don't think, in this case, that this is going to be a problem for the prosecution," he told crown prosecutor Helen Roberts, as per ABC.

"You have some problems, but this isn't one of them."

Judge Ellis will reportedly deliver his verdict next week.