Australian bishop Christopher Saunders charged with rape


Christopher Saunders
Image caption,Christopher Saunders voluntarily stood down as Bishop of Broome in 2020

By Tiffanie Turnbull

BBC News, Sydney

Australian bishop Christopher Saunders has been charged with rape and a string of historical sex offences – some against children.

The 74-year-old was arrested in Broome on Wednesday, after parallel investigations ordered by Western Australian police and the Pope.

Mr Saunders, who has denied allegations in the past, was refused bail and will face court on 19 charges on Thursday.

He is one of the most senior Catholics to face charges of this nature.

The offences he is alleged to have committed include 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.

First ordained in 1976, Mr Saunders has spent most of his career in the remote Kimberley region in the nation’s north-west corner, and was appointed Bishop of Broome in 1996.

For years, he has faced dual investigations over allegations of sexual abuse made by several Aboriginal men from communities in his parish.

The accusations were first aired in 2020, but the initial police investigation that followed was closed without charge.

He voluntarily stood down as the Bishop of Broome in 2020, but remains an emeritus bishop.

However after a historic inquiry was ordered by the Pope – and its 200-page report subsequently leaked to media last year – police began a new investigation.

Only a handful of Vos Estis Lux Mundi inquiries have been undertaken around the world. Meaning “You Are the Light of the World” in Latin, Vos Estis investigations are commissioned by the pontiff and were introduced in 2019 to combat sexual abuse and take action against bishops and other high-ranking officials in the Catholic Church.

Only the Pope can appoint or defrock a bishop.

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