Child abuse detectives have conducted a search of a property in Broome that was reportedly being used as the temporary home of disgraced bishop emeritus Christopher Saunders. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) had previously reported allegations that Saunders sexually assaulted and groomed young Aboriginal men during his 50-year career in Western Australia. Despite denying these accusations, Saunders stood aside in 2020, and his resignation was accepted by Pope Francis in 2021.
Although police investigated the allegations against Saunders from 2018 to 2020, they did not find enough evidence to press charges. However, a Vatican inquiry was subsequently launched, and a report stated that it was likely that four sexual acts had taken place, with an additional 67 youths potentially subjected to sexual or grooming behaviors. The report also revealed that Saunders had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on items such as alcohol, cigarettes, bus fares, and air fares. This report was handed to Western Australia police in May 2023, but as of last week, there were no updates on the situation.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Western Australia police confirmed that child abuse squad detectives were in Broome as part of an ongoing investigation into historic child sex offenses. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) stated last year that no potential victims mentioned in the Vatican report had been confirmed or identified as being under the age of 18.
Saunders, who was still listed as the responsible person for diocese charities as recently as October last year, has been replaced by Bishop Michael Morrissey. Morrissey is now listed as the responsible person with the Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. Father John Purnell, a whistleblower who worked with Saunders in the Broome diocese, expressed frustration at the lack of progress and called for Saunders to be defrocked, a decision that rests with the Vatican.
Guardian Australia has reached out to Saunders and the diocese for comment. For those in need of support, helplines are available in Australia, the UK, and the US. In Australia, children, young adults, parents, and teachers can contact the Kids Helpline, while adult survivors can seek help from the Blue Knot Foundation. In the UK, the NSPCC offers support to children, and adults concerned about a child can contact them as well. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) provides support for adult survivors. In the US, the Childhelp abuse hotline is available for calls or texts. Additional sources of help can be found at Child Helplines International..