Former Bishop of Broome, Christopher Saunders, Faces Rape Charges in Australia

Australian bishop Christopher Saunders faces charges of rape and multiple historical sex offenses, including some involving children.

The 74-year-old was apprehended in Broome on Wednesday following separate investigations initiated by the Western Australia police and the Pope. Saunders has expressed his intention to plead not guilty to all charges.

Saunders is among the highest-ranking Catholic officials to confront charges of this nature. The charges against him include two counts of rape, 14 counts of unlawful and indecent assault, and three counts of indecently dealing with a child while holding a position of authority.

The alleged offenses took place in remote West Australian towns such as Broome, Kununurra, and the Aboriginal community of Kalumburu between 2008 and 2014.

He was granted bail on Thursday and instructed to remain at his residence until his next court appearance scheduled for June, as reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Australian bishop Christopher Saunders, facing charges of rape and historical sex offenses, now stands as one of the most senior Catholic officials in the country accused of child sex crimes, besides the late Cardinal George Pell. Pell was initially jailed and later acquitted.

In response to the charges, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference released a statement on Thursday pledging full cooperation with the authorities. Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe described the allegations against Saunders as “very serious and deeply distressing.”

Ordained in 1976, Saunders has primarily served in the remote Kimberley region in the northwest corner of the country. Appointed as Bishop of Broome in 1996, the diocese covers an expansive area of about 770,000 sq km (297,000 sq miles), equivalent to the size of Turkey.

Saunders, recognized for his social activities, advocacy work, and guiding young men on outdoor excursions, has been a prominent figure in the local community. The accusations surfaced in 2020, but the initial police inquiry concluded without charges.

In 2020, he willingly stepped aside from his role as the Bishop of Broome and currently holds the title of emeritus bishop. However, following a historic inquiry initiated by the Pope, a fresh police investigation has been launched.

The inquiry is conducted under the framework of Vos Estis Lux Mundi, which translates to “You Are the Light of the World” in Latin. Introduced in 2019, Vos Estis investigations are authorized by the pontiff to address sexual abuse issues and hold accountable bishops and other high-ranking officials within the Catholic Church. These inquiries are relatively rare, with only a few instances conducted worldwide.


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