Australian bishop Christopher Saunders arrested, charged with rape 

800px Our Lady Queen of Peace Cathedral Broome 2019 01 1 Our Lady Queen of Peace Cathedral in Broome, Australia.

Christopher Saunders, the bishop emeritus of Broome, Australia, has been arrested and charged with rape and other charges based at least in part on the findings of a Vatican investigation into allegations he abused vulnerable young men.

Authorities announced Thursday that they were charging the 74-year-old prelate with 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, which reportedly occurred in the towns of Broome, Kununurra, and the Aboriginal community of Kalumburu between 2008 and 2014.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that Saunders will plead not guilty to the charges brought against him. Saunders was released on bail on a AU$10,000 ($6,500) bond on Thursday and has been ordered by the Broome Magistrates Court to reside at this home until the initial hearing in June. 

In a press release published on Thursday, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said the allegations made against Saunders “are very serious and deeply distressing, especially for those making those allegations.” 

Noting that it is “right and proper, and indeed necessary, that all such allegations be thoroughly investigated,” Costelloe expressed that 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.”

Saunders was ordained to the priesthood in 1976. Before he was appointed the bishop of Broome in 1996, he had several assignments with aboriginal parishes. 

The Diocese of Broome, a suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of Perth, is located in the remote northwestern region of Kimberley in the state of Western Australia and covers an area of approximately 297,000 square miles. 

Allegations were first made in 2020 against Saunders, who took a step back from the active governance of the diocese later that year. He formally resigned in 2021, citing “ill health.”

After an initial police investigation did not result in any charges against Saunders, Pope Francis ordered a canonical investigation — the first of its kind in Australia — following his 2019 motu proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi, which established a new set of norms for the universal Church concerning the procedural handling of sexual abuse cases. 

The investigation was overseen by Archbishop Mark Coleridge of the Archdiocese of Brisbane but carried out by private investigators, culminating in a 200-page report. 

A new investigation was opened on the allegations brought against Saunders after the report was handed over to Australian police. In January, detectives from the Child Abuse Squad raided Saunders’ former home as part of “an ongoing investigation into historic child sex offenses.” 

Australian news outlet 7NEWS in September 2023 obtained the investigative report, which detailed a pattern of grooming young men and occasions of coercing young men to undress and perform sexual acts. The report also noted that Saunders held “bunga-bunga” parties, which were attended only by young men.  

The bombshell report stated that Saunders “spent hundreds of thousands of dollars grooming vulnerable young Aboriginal males by supplying them with gifts of alcohol, telephones, cash, and travel.” 

“The bishop has been variously described by witnesses as … a sexual predator that seeks to prey upon vulnerable Aboriginal men and boys,” the investigative report said. 

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.