Church opens canonical investigation into Bishop Saunders

canonical investigation into Bishop Saunders

The Holy See has initiated a canonical investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against former Broome Bishop Christopher Saunders.

In a rare statement released on Saturday night, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said a Vos Estis Lux Mundi investigation was underway.

“The Holy See has initiated a canonical investigation into former Broome Bishop Christopher Saunders, with Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane appointed to oversee the investigation,” the statement said.

It is believed to be the first time a Vos Estis Lux Mundi inquiry has been conducted in Australia.

The accountability protocol was introduced by Pope Francis in 2019 and guides the response to allegations made against senior clerics such as bishops.

Bishop Saunders stood aside as Bishop of Broome in March 2020 after media reports that Western Australia Police had begun investigating allegations of sexual misconduct.

At the conclusion of its investigation, Western Australia Police confirmed that no charges would be brought against Bishop Saunders.

Saunders has always strongly denied the allegations. However, he tendered his resignation to Pope Francis, which was accepted in August 2021.

This weekend, a letter being read at Masses in the Diocese of Broome says the Church investigation “could not happen” until the police inquiries ended. The letter is signed by Apostolic Administrator Bishop Michael Morrisey and Archbishop Coleridge,

“The investigation is now underway,” the letter states. But it indicates it is not known how long the investigation will take.

However, the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith “has granted an extension beyond the normal three months for such an investigation”, the letter explains.

Archbishop Coleridge has appointed a group of qualified persons to conduct the investigation.

“Their job will be to gather, as best they can, all relevant information to pursue truth and justice for everyone involved,” Coleridge stated.

The archbishop also issued a decree stipulating that Bishop Saunders is to reside outside the Diocese of Broome “for the duration of the investigation”.



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