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Australian bishop who resigned in 2021 charged with string of child sex offences including rape

Retired Roman Catholic bishop Christopher Saunders (via REUTERS)
Retired Roman Catholic bishop Christopher Saunders (via REUTERS)

A retired Roman Catholic bishop appeared in court in remote Western Australia on Thursday on charges of sexual offences against children, including two counts of rape.

The charges against Christopher Saunders were presented on Thursday morning in Broome Magistrates Court, said a court spokesperson, who declined to say whether Saunders had entered a plea.

Western Australia police said Child Abuse Squad detectives charged a 74-year-old Broome man, whom it did not name, with 19 offences, including two of sexual penetration without consent, 14 of unlawful and indecent assault and three of a person in authority indecently dealing with a child.

Footage from TV network Seven showed Saunders being led away by police after his arrest on Wednesday. Police said the man was refused bail.

Saunders, emeritus bishop of Broome, a diocese bigger than Texas in northwest Australia, was not reachable for comment. He has previously denied wrongdoing. It was not immediately clear whether he has a lawyer.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said the church would continue to cooperate with the police.

"Allegations against the former Bishop of Broome, Christopher Saunders, are very serious and deeply distressing, especially for those making those allegations," Costelloe said in a statement.

Saunders was ordained a priest in 1976, becoming a bishop in 1995, according to the Catholic News Agency.

He stood down in 2020 after the allegations emerged. A police investigation at the time found insufficient evidence to charge him. Pope Francis accepted his resignation in 2021.

The Vatican launched its own investigation into Saunders in 2022.