Christopher Saunders: Former Bishop of Broome charged with rape in Australia

Catholic cross

Australian bishop Christopher Saunders has been charged with rape and a string of historical sex offences – some against children.

The 74-year-old was arrested in Broome on Wednesday, after parallel investigations ordered by Western Australia police and the Pope.

Mr Saunders has indicated he will plead not guilty to all charges against him.

He is one of the most senior Catholic clerics to face charges of this nature.

Mr Saunders is charged with two counts of rape, 14 counts of unlawful and indecent assault, and three counts of indecently dealing with a child as a person in authority.

The alleged offending occurred in the remote West Australian towns of Broome, Kununurra and the Aboriginal community of Kalumburu between 2008 and 2014.

He was released on bail on Thursday and ordered to reside at his home until his next hearing in June, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Aside from the late Cardinal George Pell, who was jailed and then acquitted, Mr Saunders is the most senior Catholic official in the country to be charged with child sex offences.

In a statement on Thursday, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference promised to cooperate with police, and said the charges against Mr Saunders were “very serious and deeply distressing, especially for those making those allegations”.

“It is right and proper, and indeed necessary, that all such allegations be thoroughly investigated,” Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe said.

First ordained in 1976, Mr Saunders has spent most of his career in the remote Kimberley region in the nation’s north-west corner, and was appointed Bishop of Broome in 1996.

The diocese stretches about 770,000 sq km (297,000 sq miles) – an area roughly the size of Turkey – and encompasses some of the most remote parts of the country.

Well known for socialising, his advocacy work, and escorting young men on camping and fishing trips, Mr Saunders has long been a powerful figure within the local community. There is also a beer named after him.

The accusations were first aired in 2020, but the initial police investigation that followed was closed without charge.

He voluntarily stood down as the Bishop of Broome in 2020, but remains an emeritus bishop.

However after a historic inquiry was ordered by the Pope, police began a new investigation.

Only a handful of Vos Estis Lux Mundi inquiries have been undertaken around the world. Meaning “You Are the Light of the World” in Latin, Vos Estis investigations are commissioned by the pontiff and were introduced in 2019 to combat sexual abuse and take action against bishops and other high-ranking officials in the Catholic Church.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *