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Australian prelates to collaborate with cops over child sexual abuse charges against a former bishop

An Australian bishop is facing accusations of rape and indecent assault, becoming one of the most senior Catholics in the country to be charged with sex crimes. Emeritus Bishop Christopher Alan Saunders was arrested in Western Australia on Wednesday evening after a high-powered internal Vatican investigation spurred child abuse detectives into action. Screen grab from ABC / AFPTV

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) has expressed its support for the investigations by authorities into the alleged child sexual abuse by Christopher Saunders, former bishop of Broome. 

In a statement, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, said "It is right and proper, and indeed necessary, that all such allegations be thoroughly investigated. The Church will continue to cooperate fully with the police and take every necessary step to avoid any actions which may compromise the integrity and autonomy of the police investigation.”

On February 21, authorities arrested 74-year-old Saunders in Broome and charged him with two counts of sexual penetration without consent, 14 counts of unlawful and indecent assault, and three counts of indecently dealing with a child aged 16 to 18.

The former bishop maintained his innocence and denied the accusations. 

In 2023, the Vatican began investigating the allegations. The church's investigations uncovered more alleged offenses by Saunders, prompting the Western Australia police to conduct another investigation. 

The police previously investigated complaints between 2018 and 2020, but there was not sufficient evidence to file criminal charges.

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

The Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse reported that seven percent of Australian priests faced abuse accusations.

Saunders posted a $10,000 bond and obtained release on bail.  He would appear in court in June. 

In 1976, he became a priest, and in 1995, he was appointed bishop of Broome, a diocese in Western Australia. He's one of Australia's longest-serving senior clerics. - Oliver Samson


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