Bishop Christopher Saunders granted bail on sex offence charges

Bishop Christopher Saunders

Christopher Saunders, a 74-year-old retired former Catholic bishop of Broome, appeared in the Broome Magistrates court on Thursday facing multiple charges.

The BBC reports he has been charged with rape and a string of historical sexual offences, some against children.

Saunders pleaded not guilty to all charges.

He was granted bail.

Saunders will appear again in the Broome Magistrates Court on 17 June 2024.

The allegations, from 2008, involve incidents in Broome and the remote towns of Kununurra and Kalumburu. The Broome diocese covers 773,000 sq km and serves a population of over 50,000.

Approximately the size of Turkey and equivalently the size of the 37th largest country in the world, the diocese has only 9 parishes, 13 Catholic schools and 1 university.

Saunders resigned as Bishop of Broome in 2021 amidst a failed police investigation and a media storm over the allegations.

The BBC reports that Saunders is well known for socialising, advocacy work and escorting young men on camping and fishing trips.

He is a long-time powerful figure within the local community. There is also a beer named after him.

Church co-operates with civil authorities

A subsequent Vatican investigation into the allegations against Saunders was initiated in 2022, further intensifying scrutiny.

At one point, the West Australian politicians accused the Church of refusing to hand the results of its investigation over to the Police.

However, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) responded firmly, denying these allegations.

It said that a copy of the Vatican report was already in the possession of Western Australia Police Deputy Commissioner Allan Adams.

“The Church and Western Australia Police remain in ongoing and collaborative contact in relation to this matter” ……. “the Church will continue to offer full transparency and cooperation with the WA Police” says a statement from the ACBC.

The results of the Vatican investigation gave West Australian Police grounds to mount a second investigation and ultimately press charges and arrest the former Broome bishop.

The ACBC, through Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, expressed its commitment to a thorough investigation.

Costelloe emphasised the church’s full cooperation with police efforts and underscored the gravity of the allegations.

“Allegations against the former Bishop of Broome, Christopher Saunders, are very serious and deeply distressing, especially for those making those allegations” said Archbishop Costelloe.

“It is right and proper, and indeed necessary that all such allegations be thoroughly investigated.”

The charges against Saunders come in the wake of high-profile cases within the Australian Catholic Church, including Cardinal George Pell’s conviction and subsequent acquittal of child sexual abuse charges, and former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson’s overturned conviction for covering up abuse.


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