CANBERRA, Australia –
The Vatican has shared with police the results of an internal investigation into a former Australian bishop accused of sexually abusing minors, and the church will cooperate fully with any criminal investigation, a cleric said on Friday.
The Catholic Church announced the submission of its report on former Bishop Christopher Saunders, three days after Western Australian police revealed it had requested a copy.
“The church will continue to provide full transparency and cooperation with the Western Australian Police,” Bishop Michael Morrissey, who replaced Saunders as head of the Broome Diocese in 2021, said in a statement.
“The church encourages anyone who has experienced abuse or suspects abuse within the community to come forward and report it to the police,” Morrissey added.
Saunders, 73, denied any wrongdoing, according to the church, and refused to take part in the Vatican’s investigation, which began last year.
The religious resigned from his post as bishop of Broome, an outback diocese larger in area than France but with a population of just 50,000, in 2021 after police announced the closure of a sex crimes investigation. Saunders had resigned a year earlier when the allegations surfaced in the press.
The Vatican confirmed this week that it had completed its investigation into Saunders, which it said could not have begun before the police work ended.
The confirmation came after media reported Monday that the Vatican’s 200-page report concluded that Saunders likely sexually abused four indigenous youth and may have coerced 67 other indigenous youth and men.
The church refuses to release the details of the allegations it is investigating.
Police conducted two investigations into allegations against Saunders between 2018 and 2020. Prosecutors said at the time there was insufficient evidence to file charges.
In response to a request from the Vatican, police said in a statement on Tuesday: “If further information comes to light, it will be investigated.”
According to Morrissey, the Holy See report was handed over to Western Australia Police Assistant Commissioner Allan Adams, although he did not specify when.
The church and police “are in constant and cooperative contact on this matter,” Morrissey said.
Police declined to comment Friday on what they intended to do with the report.
Saunders, who still retains the title of bishop, is now the highest-ranking clergyman to be accused of sexual abuse in Australia, amid a wider scandal that has swept the church around the world.
Cardinal George Pell was the third-highest-ranking cleric in the Vatican in 2018 when he was convicted by an Australian court of sexually assaulting two 13-year-old boys in the choir of Melbourne Cathedral in 1996, when he was archbishop.
Pell spent 13 months in prison before the convictions were overturned on appeal. He maintained his innocence until his death in Rome in January.
Saunders began working as a deacon in Broome in 1975 and became a bishop in 1996.