Tears In Court As Archbishop's Conviction Overturned

Peter Creigh burst into tears as a NSW judge sensationally quashed former archbishop Philip Wilson's conviction for covering up child sex abuse by a pedophile priest.

The main witness during Wilson's trial, Creigh was inconsolable on Thursday after Newcastle District Court judge Roy Ellis ordered the clergyman be discharged.

The former altar boy was abused by pedophile priest James Fletcher in 1971 when he was 11.

He was considered to be an honest witness when he revealed how he confided in Wilson, then an assistant priest in the NSW Hunter region, in 1976 about Fletcher's "acts of punishment".

Magistrate Robert Stone, who convicted Wilson earlier this year, believed Creigh and raised doubts about Wilson's credibility.

But Judge Ellis on Thursday said there'd been no legitimate basis to reject Wilson's evidence.

The judge said there was a reasonable doubt Wilson remembered the 1976 conversation or believed Creigh had been preyed on by Fletcher.

He said suspicion was not a substitute for proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

As the judge left the bench one onlooker yelled out: "Bulls*** - that's a disgrace."

Creigh was too upset to talk outside court.

Wilson, 68, who'd served almost four months of his home detention sentence at his sister's house, was allowed to watch the judge hand down his decision via video link from a remote location to avoid the media.

His legal team didn't comment outside court.

The judge also threw out an appeal by the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions against the leniency of Wilson's 12-month home detention sentence.

Judge Ellis said the Catholic Church had a lot to answer for over its "historical self-protective approach" to children complaining of sexual abuse by priests.

"However, Philip Wilson when he appears before this court is simply an individual who has the same legal rights as every other person in our community," the judge said.

"It is not for me to punish the Catholic Church for its institutional moral deficits or to punish Philip Wilson for the sins of the now deceased James Fletcher by finding (him) guilty simply on the basis that he is a Catholic priest."

Judge Ellis said there was no independent evidence supporting Creigh's claims about the 1976 conversation with Wilson and the altar boy had not made notes about it at the time - when he was 15 - or since.

The prosecution claimed Wilson had been told by Creigh and another former altar boy in 1976 they had been abused by Fletcher but the clergyman did nothing.

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It was alleged he subsequently failed to notify police after Fletcher was arrested and faced trial in 2004 for abusing another boy.

He resigned as archbishop of Adelaide in July after becoming the most senior Catholic clergyman in the world to be convicted of covering up child sex abuse.

Fletcher was convicted in 2004 and died of a stroke in jail in early 2006. The NSW attorney-general has asked the DPP to consider appealing Thursday's decision.