Pope replaces Australian bishop in alleged misconduct probe

(AP) — Pope Francis on Saturday replaced an Australian bishop who stepped down amid a Vatican investigation into what Australian media have described as allegations of sexual misconduct.

The Vatican said Francis accepted Bishop Christopher Alan Saunders’ resignation as head of the Broome diocese in western Australia. Francis appointed another prelate, Bishop Michael Henry Morrissey of the Geraldton diocese, to temporarily administer the sprawling Catholic diocese in Broome.

The Vatican, in keeping with its custom for announcing bishop resignations, did not cite a reason for replacing Saunders. At 71, he is four years younger than the age when the Vatican requires bishops to offer their resignations to the pontiff.

Australian media have quoted Saunders as strongly denying any wrongdoing and voluntarily offering to step aside. The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported earlier this year that police and prosecutors decided against filing criminal charges.

Parishioners in the diocese were informed in May that the Vatican investigation was ongoing, according to Australian media reports.

Details of the case weren’t immediately available. Saunders has reportedly been on sabbatical.

After decades of sexual abuse scandals in many nations, Pope Francis has vowed to root out predator clergy. Cases involving bishops who systematically covered up for such priests also led Francis to try to rebuild the collapsed trust of many faithful by pledging to bring accountability to the church hierarchy.