Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 

By Christopher Wells

Sep 23 2023

The Australian Bishops Conference confirms the Church has provided civil authorities with a copy of an independent report on accusations of abuse and grooming against Bishop Christopher Saunders, and offers important clarifications concerning the Church’s handling of the case.

The Church in Australia has provided West Australia police with its internal report on accusations of sexual misconduct and grooming made against Christopher Saunders, the Bishop emeritus of Broome. The Bishops clarified that the Church was never opposed to providing the report to the police, and said, “to portray the discussions” about handing the report over “as in any way adversarial is false.”

In a statement issued on Friday, the Bishops noted that the Church immediately responded positively to the police request for the report, and that the report was handed over to the Deputy Commissioner of Police two days later.

Investigated under Vos estis

According to a statement issued on Friday, the investigation concerned “alleged canonical crimes, as defined by Vos estis lux mundi, and alleged breaches of the Church’s Integrity in Ministry protocols”. Integrity in Ministry is a code of conduct for clergy and religious engaged in ministry on behalf of the Catholic Church in Australia.

Earlier this week, the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference described the allegations against Bishop Saunders as “very serious and deeply distressing,” and insisted, “It is right and proper for them to be thoroughly investigated.” He noted that Bishop Saunders has maintained his innocence, although the Church later confirmed that Saunders has refused to leave the Diocese and “chose not to participate in the Church’s investigation” within the time limit originally specified by the Vatican.

Accusations do not involve minors

Friday’s media statement emphasized that the accusations against Bishop Saunders do not concern minors and that the investigation did not identify any alleged or potential victims under the age of 18. It firmly rejected insinuations that the Church had breached mandatory reporting laws.

“The Church understands and takes seriously its mandatory reporting obligations under Western Australian law”, said Bishop Michael Morrisey, who has served as the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Broome since the resignation of Bishop Saunders.

Full transparency and cooperation with authorities

Bishop Morrisey added, “The Church will continue to offer full transparency and cooperation with WA Police. The Church encourages anyone who has experienced abuse, or suspects abuse within the community, to come forward and report it to police.”

The statement on Friday noted that “the Church and Police remain in ongoing and collaborative contact” concerning the case of Bishop Saunders.

Finally, the Bishops noted that “the Church’s internal investigation into Bishop Saunders under Vos estis lux mundi is ongoing.” – Vatican News