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Australian bishop attends bail hearing on sexual abuse allegations

Bishop Christopher Saunders appeared in an Australian court for a bail hearing on July 8. The former bishop of the Broome diocese is awaiting trial on 28 criminal charges, including sexual abuse.

Bishop Christopher Saunders. Photo via ABC/YouTube.

Saunders, 74, appeared in court in Broome, his former diocese, on Monday after prosecutors filed an application to change his bail conditions.

At a hearing last month, prosecutors argued that Bishop’s bail conditions, which prohibit contact with alleged victims and witnesses, should be changed to include additional possible witnesses in the case, and to prevent Bishop from returning to Broome to prevent any chance encounters.

Judge Deen Potter ruled on the motion on July 8, deciding that none of the additional names on the potential witness list appeared to be “particularly vulnerable” and that Saunders’ bail conditions would remain unchanged — even allowing for the possibility that they might have met the bishop by chance in the city.

Saunders was arrested in February following a January raid by child molestation detectives at his former residence in the Broome diocese.

The bishop led the Broome diocese in Western Australia until 2021, when he resigned, citing “ill health” amid allegations of sexual misconduct and grooming of young Aboriginal men.

The bishop’s resignation follows his decision to step down from running the diocese in 2020, after accusations emerged that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in church funds on gifts for vulnerable young men, including cash, phones, alcohol and travel.

The police investigation that led to the raid and the bishop’s arrest was launched after church authorities handed over a 200-page report from an inquiry into alleged misconduct by Saunders, ordered by the Vatican in 2022, after a separate police investigation was closed the previous year for lack of evidence.

In a statement at the time of Suanders’ arrest, the president of the Australian bishops’ conference, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth, said it was “right and proper, and indeed essential, that all allegations be thoroughly investigated” and promised that the church “will cooperate fully with the police and take all necessary steps to avoid any action that might compromise the integrity and autonomy of the police investigation.”

Saunders now faces more than 20 criminal charges relating to the alleged sexual abuse, including two counts of rape and 14 counts of unlawful and indecent assault, and several other charges relating to possessing an unlicensed firearm.

The sexual abuse allegations relate to alleged abuse of young Aboriginal men in townships across the diocese between 2008 and 2016.

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In April, Suander’s former secretary said: Pillar that the bishop ordered her to pay “hush money” to the bishop’s alleged victims while she was working for him.

“There was a list of victims’ names, potential victims’ names and their bank account details hanging on the wall in the secretary’s office,” Cherrille Quilty said. Pillar“It was so urgent that I paid them. It wasn’t just odd jobs, I can tell you that now. It was hush money. One of the first victims to come forward was the one I paid the most, just to keep him quiet.”

“You didn’t dare ask why (Saunders) was paying them. You didn’t dare,” Quilty said. “He wasn’t the kind of man you would ever upset or ask anything of.”

The released excerpts from a report from a church investigation that led to renewed police action against the bishop last year revealed a pattern of behaviour by Saunders that involved grooming dozens of young men over decades.

According to media reports of the leaked text, a man told Vatican investigators that Saunders hired him to do some gardening at his residence and then invited him to use his shower. According to the alleged victim, the bishop got into the shower with him.

“I was scared. He was a big guy and I was a teenager at the time,” he told investigators, and the bishop later began showering him with gifts of cash, phones, cigarettes and alcohol.

Another man testified that Saunders hosted so-called “bunga bunga parties” to which only male guests were invited, and that he saw the bishop asking attendees to take off their clothes, kiss and grope the young guests.

“Witnesses variously described the bishop as a… sexual predator who preyed on vulnerable Aboriginal men and boys,” the report reads.

“The independent report has been submitted to the Holy See and the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is continuing its investigation,” the bishops’ conference said in September 2023, promising continued cooperation with the police.

However, the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference has faced questions over its public statement on Saunders and the extent to which restrictions imposed by the Vatican on the bishop were adhered to.

The Australian Bishops’ Conference has previously said in public statements that the Church’s investigation was into “alleged canonical offences as defined You are lux mundiand alleged violations of the Church Honesty in service minutes” and was overseen by the Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, but was conducted by independent investigators.

However, statements issued by the conference in September 2023, and posted on the Vatican’s official media portal, also stated that the accusations against Bishop Saunders did not involve minors and that the investigation found no alleged or potential victims under the age of 18, even as Saunders has now been charged with multiple sex offenses against a person under 18 — the canonical age below which a person is considered a minor in cases of sexual abuse.

It is unclear whether the Australian criminal investigation, which police say has been launched in connection with You are files, discovered new allegations unknown to the Church authorities, or drew different conclusions based on the same evidence.

After his resignation and opening You are During the investigation, Saunders was ordered by the Vatican to live outside the diocese, but he ignored the order. He continued to live in a church-owned house in Broome and exercised considerable influence over diocesan affairs.

As of December 2023, Saunders is still listed as “responsible person” for nine Catholic Church charities in his former diocese, several of which are linked to local parishes.

Saunders insists he is innocent of any wrongdoing. His next court appearance is scheduled for September.

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