The Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide was charged by police on Tuesday for allegedly concealing the sexual abuse of children by a priest in the 1970s.
Archbishop Philip Wilson, 64, was charged by New South Wales Police with concealing a serious offence, the Guardian reports.
Wilson, who is vice-president of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, is thought to be the most senior Catholic official in the world to face this kind of criminal charge, according to a report in the Australian.
The allegation is that Wilson concealed his knowledge of abuse by fellow priest Jim Fletcher, who worked in the same diocese as Wilson in the 1970s. If Wilson is convicted he could be sentenced to up to two years in prison.
Fletcher was jailed in 2004 for raping a young boy between 1989 and 1991, and died while serving his sentence. An inquiry into the handling of abuse allegations in the Hunter region said Fletcher had an "extensive history" of child abuse, dating back to at least the 1970s.
Wilson said in a statement on Tuesday that he strongly denies the allegation.
"The suggestion appears to be that I failed to bring to the attention of police a conversation I am alleged to have had in 1976, when I was a junior priest, that a now deceased priest had abused a child," he said.
"From the time this was first brought to my attention last year, I have completely denied the allegation. I intend to vigorously defend my innocence through the judicial system."
Wilson also emphasised his commitment to dealing with the issue of sexual abuse in the Church.
He is due to appear at a local court on April 30.
In February Pope Francis wrote to senior Catholic clergy to reiterate the need to report abuse.
"Families need to know that the church is making every effort to protect their children," the pope said in the letter to the heads of national Catholic conferences. "They should also know that they have every right to turn to the church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home.
"Consequently, priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors."