Vatican’s sex abuse report on WA bishop to go to police

Australian Associated Press [Sydney, Australia]

September 21, 2023

The Catholic Church will give West Australian police a Vatican report that concluded a longstanding bishop of Broome sexually assaulted four Aboriginal boys and young men and groomed dozens more.

The report found Christopher Saunders hosted “bunga bunga” parties at church properties and spent thousands of dollars of church money on cash payments, mobile phones, alcohol and cigarettes, the Seven Network has reported.

The bishop has denied the allegations and has not been charged by WA Police but he resigned in 2020 after sexual misconduct and bullying claims emerged.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said that following a request from WA Police the church was “taking immediate steps” to provide them with a copy of the report.

“The church and Western Australia Police remain in ongoing and collaborative contact in relation to this matter,” he said in a brief statement late on Wednesday.

Earlier this week Archbishop Costelloe said the allegations against the bishop were “deeply distressing”.

He said the report, overseen by Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, was provided to the Holy See, with the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith continuing the investigation.

“In due time, the Holy See will make its determinations. It is hoped that this will not be unduly delayed.”

The 200-page Vos Estis Lux Mundi investigation identified 67 Aboriginal boys and young men who may have been subjected to sexual assault or grooming by the bishop.

“It has been established through the interview of witnesses and examination of documentary and other evidence that Bishop Christopher Saunders has developed a modus operandi of grooming young Aboriginal men for sex during his time within the Kimberley region, both as a Priest and as Bishop,” the report said.

It said interviewed witnesses described the bishop as being “a wonderful orator and strong leader” but also a sexual predator preying on vulnerable ­Aboriginal boys and young men.

The report was also critical of the WA police investigation into the bishop’s alleged offending and the decision not to press criminal charges due to difficulties in establishing the ages of victims at the time of the alleged offending.

WA Premier Roger Cook said this week it was a “blight” on the Catholic Church that the incidents had not been reported earlier.

“We want these situations, these investigations to get to the bottom of the matter so we can find some redress and some comfort for the victims of this sort of sexual abuse.”

He called on the report’s authors to provide any new evidence to police for potential use in a prosecution case

WA Police said it had requested a copy of the Vatican’s report and if further information comes to light it will investigate.

The force said it had carried out two investigations into a number of complaints regarding a member of the Catholic Church in the Kimberley region between 2018 and 2020.

There was insufficient evidence to lay criminal charges.

“Offences of a sexual nature are complex and challenging to prosecute,” a spokeswoman said.

“In all instances, the welfare of complainants is of the utmost importance.”