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Bishop’s former secretary claims ‘hush money’ payments made to alleged victims

The former secretary of an Australian bishop charged with sexual abuse told The Pillar that she was personally instructed by Bishop Christopher Saunders to make payments to potential victims.

Bishop Christopher Saunders. Image via ABC/YouTube.

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Cherrille Quilty told The Pillar that from 2016 to 2017 she worked for Bishop Saunders, who led the Western Australia Diocese of Broome until 2021. 

Quilty said that she was among the first to raise a criminal complaint against the bishop, whom she also accused of abusive bullying as an employer, and to give evidence in the Vatican ordered investigation carried out into allegations against Saunder under the norms of Vos estis lux mundi.

The bishop’s former secretary also claimed to The Pillar that there had been a list of dozens of young Aboriginal men pinned to the diocesan office wall during her time there, to whom the bishop ordered frequent payments from Church funds.

Quilty also said that Saunders was routinely bullying and abusive to staff, including her, and could not be questioned about the payments, or what they were for.

Saunders currently faces more than 20 criminal charges related to alleged sexual abuse, including two counts of rape and 14 counts of unlawful and indecent assault; he was arrested earlier this year.


“I wasn't the only secretary that was bullied. I know of at least two others, if not three others that were bullied as well. And the reason he bullied us was to keep us in a position of fear so that we wouldn't report what we knew,” Quilty told The Pillar.

According to reports from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “the sexual assault charges relate to one complainant, with the alleged offending commencing in 2008 when the complainant was aged 16 or 17 years of age.”

ABC also reported the bishop is charged with three counts of indecent dealings with a child.

The bishop’s arrest and charging came after a second police investigation was opened last year into accusations against Saunders, after law enforcement authorities were given a copy of the Church’s Vos estis investigation.

Previous statements from the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference have said that Saunders’ case is before the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome and he is charged with “alleged canonical crimes, as defined by Vos estis lux mundi, and alleged breaches of the Church’s Integrity in Ministry protocols.”

But the bishops’ conference also claimed initially that the investigation in Saunder did not identify any alleged or potential victims under the age of 18, even while Saunders has now been criminally charged with multiple sexual offenses against a person under 18.

The Church’s Vos estis investigation itself came after an initial police investigation into the bishop, which was closed in 2021 for lack of evidence.

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Speaking to The Pillar, Quilty said she had first flagged the bishop’s conduct to local police in 2018.

“I was interviewed by the police initially in 2018, but I'd actually reached out to the police [first],” she said. “I told them where to find valuable information and they didn't even enlist a search warrant and that gave him the opportunity to go and burn documents, relevant documents and whatnot.”

But a crucial piece of evidence, she said, was a list of names and bank account details to which Saunders’ would order payment, which she retained a copy of and gave to both police and Church investigators.

“You might've read that there was a list of names on the wall in the secretary's office with victims, potential victims and their bank account details,” she said, confirming the list’s existence and claiming it was the basis of the new investigation which led to the charges Saunders now faces. 

“I was asked to pay off one of those victims that came forward several times,” Quilty told The Pillar, explaining that the list was ostensibly for the payment of men who had done “odd jobs” for the bishop.

“It was so urgent that I pay them. It wasn't for odd jobs, I can tell you that now. It was hush money. One of the first victims that came forward was the one that I paid most frequently and it was to shut him up.”

“You didn't dare ask why [Saunders] was paying them. Didn't dare. He wasn't the sort of person you would ever cross or ask him anything… And he would make me drop whatever I was doing to go to the bank, get petty cash out, go to the bank, and bank that money immediately.” 

“[Saunders] said not to say it was the diocese,” when instructing Quilty to make the payments, she recalled, “but I always did. I told the bank it was from the Diocese of Broome on the bank account. I would come back for the receipt, drop it into the finance office.”

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Saunders resigned from office as bishop of the Broome diocese in 2021 citing “ill health,” amid allegations of sexual misconduct and grooming against young Aboriginal men. 

The bishop’s resignation followed a decision to step back from governance of the diocese in 2020, after accusations surfaced that he had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of Church funds on gifts for vulnerable young men, including cash, phones, alcohol, and travel.

Leaked portions of the Vos estis report did identify a pattern of Saunders’ behavior consistent with grooming dozens of young men over a period of decades. 

According to Australian media reports on the leaked text, one man told Vatican-commissioned investigators that Saunders had employed him to do gardening work at his residence and offered him the use of his shower afterwards. According to the alleged victim, the bishop then climbed into the shower with him. 

Another man testified that Saunders threw so-called “bunga bunga parties,” to which only male guests were invited and at which he saw the bishop ask attendees to strip, and kiss and grope young guests.

The bishop’s former secretary told The Pillar that “as mother and a grandmother, I had my doubts about him only weeks into the job.” 

“He had boys, young Aboriginal boys staying in his home,” Quilty alleged “I lived directly behind him in the secretary's house. But outside the bishop's back fence was an empty two bedroom apartment, fully self-contained, where these boys could have stayed if he was ‘helping them.’ But he had them living and sleeping in his house, frequently, young men.”

Quilty said that Saunders frequently visited young Aboriginal men being held in the local jail “and when they got out, he would give them a mobile phone so he could stay in touch with them. And that's how he groomed them.”

“He was very clever in choosing victims who he knew wouldn't be believed against his word.”

The same young men would then be added to the office list for payments, Quilty told The Pillar, with the list running to six pages.

“All of their names, including the young men that came forward, and others on that list all received money from the bishop,” she said and included “67 potential other victims besides the four that came forward.”

“The bishop had me buying phones in my name, and I gave receipts to the investigators for them. I didn't pay for them, obviously, I got petty cash from the diocese. But he gave away mobile phones to young men so he could stay in touch with them,” she told The Pillar. “I bought probably about six of those. I was only there with him for nine or ten months. I couldn't stand it any longer.”

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In addition to making statements to both police investigations into Saunders, Quilty told The Pillar she also gave evidence to Church investigators, two former policemen who were contracted to conduct interviews as part of the Vos estis process.

“Both of the detectives that came to my home in 2022,” she said. “They were extremely professional. They handled two investigations running concurrently. One was Vos Estis and the other one was called ‘Integrity in Ministry.’ Now, the ‘Integrity in Ministry’ had everything to do with the [workplace] bullying [by Saunders]. And the Vos Estis had everything to do with sexual abuse.” 

“They did two completely different interviews at the same time,” Quilty recalled, “but they closed off one first and then did the other.”

She told The Pillar that she supplied the investigators with the list of men to be paid form her former office, and that the new charges of abuse of a minor against Saunders relate to an individual who appeared on the list.

“He's a victim. He's on the list,” Quilty said, but noted that the list only contained names and bank details for payment, not the ages of the young men, or when they first came into contact with Saunders. “They didn't know his age, to be fair. It was only a name and bank account details.”

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In addition to speaking to independent lay investigators, Quilty also said she had made numerous attempts to contact individual bishops and the Australian bishops’ conference.

“The only person [from the hierarchy] who has ever spoken to me was Bishop Michael Morrissey,” she said. Bishop Morrissey is the bishop of the neighboring Diocese of Geraldton and currently serves as the apostolic administrator of the Broome diocese.

“Archbishop [Timothy] Costello [of Perth], who is now the head of the [bishops’ conference], he's written me a letter, but he's never invited to meet me or speak to me on the phone,” Quilty said. 

“He offered me counseling, that's all he did. That's the Church's way of dealing with it. I did have a couple of sessions and [the counselor] diagnosed me with PTSD from the bishop [Saunders].”

“But they did nothing with the perpetrator,” she said. “My husband actually got a job in the Northern Territory and we moved. And it was the best thing that ever happened to us getting out of there. I was in tears most of the time with him.”

Saunders resigned from office as bishop of the Broome diocese in 2021 citing “ill health” amid allegations of sexual misconduct and grooming against young Aboriginal men. 

The bishop’s resignation followed a decision to step back from governance of the diocese in 2020, after accusations surfaced that he had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of Church funds on gifts for vulnerable young men, including cash, phones, alcohol, and travel.

Following his resignation and the opening of the Vos estis investigation, Saunders was ordered by the Vatican to reside outside the diocese, a directive he ignored, continuing to live in a Church owned house in Broome and to exercise considerable influence over diocesan affairs.

As of last year, Saunders was still listed as the “responsible person” for nine Catholic charities in the diocese, several of which are affiliated with local parishes. 

Saunders has insisted he is innocent of any misconduct.

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