Christopher Saunders: Ex-Bishop of Broome charged with rape, historical sex offences

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Former Bishop of Broome Christoper Saunders charged with rape and historical sex offences in this undated photo.—Reuters
Former Bishop of Broome Christoper Saunders charged with rape and historical sex offences in this undated photo.—Reuters

Former Bishop of Broome, Christopher Saunders, is facing grave charges of rape and historical sex offences, including some against children, BBC reported.

The 74-year-old Australian bishop was apprehended in Broome following parallel investigations initiated by the Western Australia police and the Pope.

Saunders, one of the most senior Catholic clerics in Australia, is confronting 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 incidents transpired in the remote West Australian towns of Broome, Kununurra, and the Aboriginal community of Kalumburu between 2008 and 2014.

Released on bail and ordered to remain at his home until his next hearing in June, Saunders intends to plead not guilty to all charges. His case marks a significant development, as he becomes one of the highest-ranking Catholic officials in the country to face child sex offence charges, alongside the late Cardinal George Pell.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement expressing cooperation with the police and acknowledging the severity of the charges against Saunders, deeming them "very serious and deeply distressing." Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe emphasised the necessity of thorough investigations.

Saunders, ordained in 1976, spent most of his career in the remote Kimberley region and held the position of Bishop of Broome since 1996. Known for his advocacy work, socialising, and leadership within the community, the accusations surfaced in 2020, leading to his voluntary resignation in the same year. 

However, a renewed investigation was initiated after a historic inquiry ordered by the Pope, following the Vos Estis Lux Mundi protocol introduced in 2019 to combat sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.