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ACBC president pledges full cooperation after Bishop Christopher Saunders arrest

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Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth, a member of the synod preparatory commission and president of the Australian bishops’ conference., speaks to reporters at a news conference at the Vatican April 20, 2023. (CNS photo/Justin McLellan)

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB has said the investigation into allegations against the former Bishop of Broome Christopher Saunders is “right and proper, and indeed necessary” after he was arrested by Western Australian police over nearly 20 charges of historical sexual abuse. 

Police launched their second investigation into Bishop Saunders after the church provided a Vatican report detailing its own Vos Estis Lux Mundi investigation last September. 

A statement by Western Australia police said that Child Abuse Squad detectives had arrested a 74-year-old Broome man on 21 February in Broome.  

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He was subsequently charged in relation to 19 alleged historical offences including two counts of rape, 14 counts of unlawful and indecent assault, and three counts of indecently dealing with a child aged 16-18 years old. 

He was refused bail and scheduled to appear in court the following day. 

“Allegations against the former Bishop of Broome, Christopher Saunders are very serious and deeply distressing, especially for those making those allegations,” said Archbishop Costelloe. 

“It is right and proper, and indeed necessary, that all such allegations be thoroughly investigated. 

“The Church will continue to cooperate fully with the police and take every necessary step to avoid any actions which may compromise the integrity and autonomy of the police investigation.” 

The investigation by the church included both alleged canonical crimes and alleged breaches of the church’s Integrity in Ministry protocols by Bishop Saunders.  

It was launched after WA police had closed an earlier investigation without laying any charges. 

A 7 News report, which aired on 18 September 2023 said the alleged offences date back to 1976. 

Bishop Saunders was ordained for the Diocese of Broome in 1976. He was installed as its bishop in 1996 and spent almost 50 years in the Kimberley mission. His resignation was accepted by Pope Francis in 2021.

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