Pope Francis accepts resignation of Australian bishop investigated for sexual abuse

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Our Lady Queen of Peace Cathedral in Broome, Australia. / null

Vatican City, Aug 28, 2021 / 05:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Saturday accepted the resignation of Australian Bishop Christopher Alan Saunders, who had been on administrative leave from the Diocese of Broome while under investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct.

Australia’s ABC News reported in June that the 71-year-old Saunders had been under investigation by both police and the Vatican.

Police said in late May they would not be pressing charges against Saunders, who has strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Saunders was first accused of historical sexual abuse in 2018. The bishop told a reporter for Australia's Channel Seven TV in March 2020 that, “Without any reservation, without any doubt whatsoever, that has never happened, and it never would happen.”

Saunders was also subjected in early 2020 to a Vatican-ordered internal review for management of staff and finances.

Pope Francis on Aug. 28 accepted Saunders’ resignation of the pastoral government of the Diocese of Broome, which Saunders had led since February 1996.

The pope also appointed Bishop Michael Henry Morrissey of Australia’s Diocese of Geraldton apostolic administrator “sede vacante” of the Diocese of Broome.

Saunders has been living outside the Diocese of Broome since November 2020, when he was asked to take a leave of six months.

The bishop had already voluntarily stood aside from the leadership of his diocese beginning in March 2020 after the police investigation into him first emerged.

The Vatican had appointed Bishop Peter Ingham of Wollongong to lead an apostolic visitation to the Diocese of Broome in 2020.

Saunders was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Broome in 1976. He was born in Melbourne. In 1989, he became the diocesan administrator, and was consecrated as the bishop of Broome in 1996.

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