Australian police search bishop’s home after abuse inquiry

The Tablet [Market Harborough, England]

January 16, 2024

By Mark Bowling

A Church report described Christopher Saunders as a “sexual predator” who sought to “prey upon vulnerable Aboriginal men and boys”.

Police in Western Australia have raided the home of a former bishop who was at the centre of an investigation ordered by Pope Francis.

On Sunday 14 January, detectives searched the home of Christopher Saunders, the former Bishop of Broome who resigned his see in 2021 after an initial police investigation was made public.

According to the 7News network, Bishop Saunders was also interviewed by police in Perth on Monday.

The Diocese of Broome covers a vast area of Western Australia’s tropical north, including a large number of Aboriginal communities.

An investigation ordered by the Pope into Bishop Saunders under the terms of his motu proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi – the first of its kind in Australian history – levelled a number of sexual misconduct allegations against him.

A 200-page Church-commissioned report alleged the 73-year-old Saunders sexually abused four Aboriginal youths and misused hundreds of thousands of dollars in Church and charity funds attempting to groom dozens more.

The Church report, leaked to 7News last September, described Saunders as a “sexual predator” who sought to “prey upon vulnerable Aboriginal men and boys”. Saunders has always denied any wrongdoing.

After working in Broome for almost 50 years, he voluntarily stood down in 2021 when it was revealed he had been at the centre of an 18-month investigation by the Western Australia police, codenamed “Operation White Plane”.

Police investigated allegations against Saunders but announced in May 2021 that they did not find enough evidence to press charges.

Last September, the Church confirmed it had provided police with the Vos Estis Lux Mundi report, after a copy was leaked.

The report was handed to WA police in May this year, and a police spokesperson told 7News that the Vatican investigation could prompt them to re-open the case.

In a statement last September, the Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said the allegations against Bishop Saunders disclosed in the Church report were “very serious and deeply distressing” and it was proper they were thoroughly investigated.

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