Broome Catholic Bishop Christopher Saunders faces allegations of ‘very serious’ sex abuse in Vatican report

Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC [Sydney, Australia]

September 19, 2023

By Vanessa Mills and Erin Parke

Key points:

  • A Vatican report alleges ‘very serious’ misconduct by Broome Bishop Christopher Saunders
  • Extracts published by 7News claim he assaulted four young males while possibly grooming another 67
  • Bishop Saunders has remained in Broome and turned down interview requests

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has described sexual misconduct allegations against a prominent WA church leader as “deeply distressing.”

The long-serving Catholic Bishop of Broome, Christopher Saunders, has been the subject of a Vatican-led investigation into allegations of sexual and professional misconduct, first revealed by the ABC in 2020.

The 73-year-old, who lives in the Kimberley town, denies any wrongdoing.

He resigned from his post in August 2021 and retains the title Emeritus Bishop of Broome.

Extracts from the report to the Holy See which have been made public allege the Bishop sexually assaulted four teenagers and young men, potentially groomed another 67 and kept a cache of guns and cash on church premises.

The Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe, who is also the Conference president, said the allegations levelled at the Bishop in the report were “very serious” and “deeply distressing”.

In a rare statement about the case, Archbishop Costelloe said he hoped the Holy See would not delay its determinations on the Kimberley cleric.

Archbishop Costelloe described the Vatican’s investigation, called Vos Estis, as a “long and painful process.”

Church transparency questioned

The Vos Estis investigation, carried out by two former WA police detectives, has not been released in full by the Vatican.

An advocate for accountability within the Catholic Church said it was common for investigations to be shrouded in secrecy.

Anne Barrett Doyle is the co-director of a website called Bishop Accountability, tracking cases of alleged abuse and investigations around the world.

“It is a very secretive process,” she told the ABC.

“The slowness and lack of updates are par for the course in just about every Vos Estis case and just complete silence for months or even years from the Vatican.

“This is the Vatican reasserting control.”

Ms Barrett Doyle, who has not read the report on Bishop Saunders  described Vos Estis as an “enormous disappointment.”

She said the investigations do not have sufficient transparency.

“This is a quintessentially clericalist process, elitist, and tightly Vatican centred.”

WA Premier Roger Cook said he was pleased the Vatican had undertaken the inquiry.

“If they have any new information they should provide that to the police,” he said on Tuesday.

The ABC has attempted to contact Bishop Saunders.