Bishop Christopher Saunders’ future remains a mystery as Vatican investigations continue
The Vatican is continuing to investigate Broome Bishop Christopher Saunders, according to a church document obtained by the ABC.
- Church confirms Bishop Saunders did not return to Diocese of Broome due to ongoing Vatican investigation
- Police confirmed last month Bishop Saunders would not face criminal charges over allegations of sexual misconduct
- Inquiry Accompanied by Major Reforms in Canon Law and Church Processes
The 71-year-old was sent on a six-month sabbatical last year as police investigate allegations of sexual misconduct in the Kimberley area in far north Washington state.
He was due to return to take over the leadership of the diocese in late May, the same week that WA police confirmed they would not press charges.
But Bishop Saunders, who has firmly denied any wrongdoing and has voluntarily stepped aside, has yet to resume his post and continues to reside 2,000 kilometers south of Perth.
Status a mystery
A press release distributed to parishioners on May 27 confirms that the diocese is still in the hands of provisional administrator Paul Boyers.
“Although this is the case, we ask that you continue to pray for our diocese and for Bishop Christopher Saunders.
“The Church in Australia has learned a lot from the Royal Commission and the Church of the Diocese of Broome supports national initiatives in safeguarding and professional standards.
The Church did not respond to repeated questions from the ABC about Bishop Saunders’ return to the area and whether a timeline or plan for it has been established.
New process for Vatican investigations
Ongoing investigation comes amid the most significant reform of the Church’s internal rules and regulations in decades
The guidelines were released by Pope Francis in 2019 to formalize the process for handling complaints of abuse filed against priests and bishops, and increase accountability.
This requires an independent investigation to be ordered, usually by the relevant archdiocese. In this case, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe in Perth.
It recommends, but does not require, that an independent layman be appointed to conduct the investigation, such as a retired judge.
The guidelines require updates to be sent to the Vatican every 30 days and aim for investigations to be completed within 90 days.
Vatican renewed investigation
In a statement, the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth did not confirm its role in the process.
“The Catholic Archdiocese of Perth is unable to comment further on the Vos Estis Lux Mundi processes beyond what is described on the Holy See’s website,” the statement said.
“With regard to the procedural standards of Vos Estis Lux Mundi, it is important to specify that it is the competent dicastery of the Holy See which is responsible for determining whether an investigation is entrusted either to the Metropolitan or to a person other than the Metropolitan. “
A Vos Estis investigation would focus on allegations of sexual misconduct, which the Church does not investigate while a police investigation is ongoing.
Bishop Saunders was already the subject of an internal review ordered by the Vatican early last year, which focused on his management of personnel and finances.
The findings of this review, carried out by Bishop Peter Ingham, were submitted to the Holy See last year but have not been made public.
The Vatican Media Office, the Australian Council of Bishops, the Diocese of Broome, Australian Catholic Safeguarding Limited and Bishop Christopher Saunders did not respond to questions from the ABC.