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Vatican report brands Australian bishop a 'sexual predator'

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A Vatican investigation has found a longstanding Catholic bishop sexually assaulted Aboriginal boys and young men and groomed dozens more.

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Former Bishop of Broome Christopher Saunders has denied the allegations and has not been charged by WA Police but resigned in 2020 after sexual misconduct and bullying claims emerged.

The 200-page Vos Estis Lux Mundi investigation, the first in Australia, identified  67 Aboriginal boys and young men who may have been subjected to sexual assault or grooming by the bishop.

“It has been established through the interview of witnesses and examination of documentary and other evidence that Bishop Christopher Saunders has developed a modus operandi of grooming young Aboriginal men for sex during his time within the Kimberley region, both as a Priest and as Bishop,” the report says.

“The Bishop has been variously described by witnesses as… a sexual predator that seeks to prey upon vulnerable Aboriginal men and boys.

“During the investigation, four victims of sexual (delictual) acts were identified.”

The report said Saunders groomed vulnerable young Aboriginal males by plying them with alcohol, cash, phones, phone credit, hotels, air and bus travel and that he spent up to $4000 a month on alcohol for the youths.

In a statement Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, who is president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said the allegations against Bishop Saunders were “very serious and deeply distressing” and it was proper they were thoroughly investigated.

He said the church’s investigation was overseen by Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge and entrusted to an experienced and independent specialist investigations organisation.

The report was provided to the Holy See, with the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith continuing the investigation, Archbishop Costelloe said.

“We will respect the enduring confidential nature of this process by not commenting on specific allegations that have been raised,” he said.

“In due time, the Holy See will make its determinations. It is hoped that this will not be unduly delayed.”

The report was also critical of the WA police investigation into the bishop’s alleged offending and the decision not to press criminal charges due to difficulties in establishing the ages of victims at the time of the alleged offending.

Archbishop Costelloe said that only after “a just and authoritative finding” had been made could the process of rebuilding the church community in Broome under the leadership of Bishop Michael Morrissey continue to make progress and bring healing.

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028

-with AAP

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