Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson has been charged with concealing child sex abuse, NSW police have confirmed.
The abuse was allegedly committed during the 1970s by another priest, when both men worked in the Maitland Diocese, near Newcastle in NSW.
Archbishop Wilson is thought to be the most senior Catholic official in the world to face charges of this nature and if sentenced, could face up to two years behind bars, News Corp Australia reports.
Police said a 64-year-old man was charged after allegedly concealing "a serious offence regarding child sexual abuse" in the Hunter region.
The charge is the result of an investigation by Strike Force Lantle, which since 2010 has probed allegations of concealment of child abuse by former and current clergy attached to the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese of the Catholic Church.
Police said a future court attendance notice related to the matter was served in South Australia on Tuesday.
The matter is listed for Newcastle Local Court on April 30.
In a statement to the media, Archibishop Wilson said he was "disappointed to have been notified by the NSW Police that it has decided to file a charge".
"I intend to vigorously defend my innocence through the judicial system and I have retained Senior Counsel, Mr Ian Temby AO, who will represent me in respect of it," he said.
"I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to dealing proactively with the issue of child sexual abuse and the implementation of best-practice child protection measures which I have pioneered since becoming a bishop," he added in the statment.
"Despite this charge, I will continue to do what I can to protect the children in our care in the Archdiocese of Adelaide".
In 2013, Wilson was among witnesses grilled behind closed doors at a special commission of inquiry into the handling of allegations of child sex abuse by Hunter Valley priests.
The inquiry focused on how police and church officials handled sex abuse allegations, particularly those involving serial sex offender Father Denis McAlinden and convicted pedophile Father James Fletcher, who are both dead.
One focus for the inquiry was whether Catholic Church officials helped or hindered police investigations.
In June last year, the archbishop also fronted an Adelaide hearing by the ongoing Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
That hearing examined the response of the South Australian police, St Ann's Special School and the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide to claims of child sexual abuse perpetrated by a bus driver at the school.
The bus driver, who worked at the school from 1986 to 1991, molested as many as 30 disabled children.
At the hearing, Archbishop Wilson admitted the church's response to sexual abuse claims at the school should have begun much earlier than it did.