- Another priest has shared concerns about Vatican inaction in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against the Bishop of Broome
- An investigation reveals a priest accused of molesting a teenager left Australia before being interviewed by police
- Another priest is confirmed to have had a sexual relationship with a woman and fathered a child in the remote Diocese of Broome
A second priest has broken ranks with the Catholic Church, going public with concerns about what he has described as the "abysmal and extremely unjust" Vatican response to sexual misconduct allegations at an outback diocese.
It comes as an ABC investigation has uncovered a series of scandals involving priests in the trouble-plagued Diocese of Broome, including one who impregnated a schoolteacher, and a clergyman who returned to India before police could interview him over indecent assault allegations made by a teenage girl.
The incidents allegedly occurred under the management of 70-year-old Bishop Christopher Saunders, who is subject to an ongoing, two-year police investigation into sexual misconduct, allegations he has strenuously denied.
The Vatican is also running a separate internal investigation into his management of the diocese, which covers the vast Kimberley region of northern WA.
The review was triggered in March, when local priest John Purnell went public with concerns about the Church's inaction over the sexual misconduct allegations made against Bishop Saunders in October 2018.
Now, another former Kimberley priest has spoken out, saying he is shocked and appalled at the Church's failure to remove Bishop Saunders while the investigation is ongoing.
The priest, who wishes to be known only as 'Chris', was a priest in the Kimberley for five years and found out about the allegations made by young Aboriginal men against Bishop Saunders during a late-night phone call.
"I was told that a young man had made a very, very troubling and disturbing — but extremely compelling — allegation against Bishop Saunders, and that a report had been made to police," Chris said.
"I was absolutely shocked, and we all presumed the Bishop would be removed immediately, while the investigation got underway.
He said the handful of people who knew about the allegations were instructed by WA Police and church authorities to remain silent and continue working alongside Bishop Saunders, so as not to tip him off.
'Presumption of innocence'
Chris said he was deeply uncomfortable with the church's decision to let the Bishop remain in charge of the remote diocese, and contacted Catholic Professional Standards several times expressing concern.
The ABC has confirmed he was one of at least five diocese staff who contacted Catholic Professional Standards around this time, asking that Bishop Saunders be removed.
After several months of inaction, Chris made the decision to resign from the diocese in January, 2019.
"This has had a devastating impact not just on me, but many others," he said.
"We were never asking that Bishop Saunders be sent to prison, as he has to be given the presumption of innocence, while the police and the courts do their work.
"All we're asking is that the church remove him while it's investigated, and that these allegations are taken seriously.
"It shows that the church has not learnt from its mistakes of the past — there is something terribly wrong when it cannot deal with someone as powerful as a bishop."
Catholic church media representatives in Australia and Rome have not responded to the ABC's requests for comment.
Police and Vatican investigations ongoing
The diocese, which covers half a dozen remote Aboriginal mission communities, remains in limbo while the police and Vatican investigations continue.
The police case file has bounced between detectives in Broome and Kununurra, and has now been transferred to the sex assault squad in Perth for fresh assessment.
The Vatican review of the diocese has been led by retired Bishop of Wollongong Peter Ingham, but the present status of that investigation has not been publicly disclosed.
The main point of contention and confusion is Bishop Saunders' status in the diocese he has overseen for 25 years.
He stood aside from administrative duties in March, but he continues to conduct mass, funeral services and travel across the 10 parishes.
Catholic historian and former priest Paul Collins says he is surprised the church has not taken stronger action.
"I don't know all the details of the situation, but I'd have to say that it's a bit unusual," Mr Collins said.
"I'm surprised at the conditions of the stand-down, because the general policy in the church in Australia, and certainly in the English speaking world, is that if a priest is accused of sexual misconduct or sexual abuse it would be normal for the priest to stand down from all administration, but also to stand down from all public ministry.
An ABC investigation has revealed there have also been multiple complaints made about the behaviour of priests in the Broome Diocese in recent years.
Priest case #1: Priest accused of indecently assaulting teenage girl
In 2011, police received a report that a parish priest in the East Kimberley had allegedly molested a 16-year-old girl.
The allegation against Father Ramesh Babu Katru was referred to WA Police detectives to investigate, but it was discovered Fr Katru — who was known locally as Father Jes — had left for India a few weeks prior.
He was never interviewed, and the police file remains open, with an alert in place to notify authorities if he returns to Australia.
Bishop Saunders described the incident when he testified at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse in February 2017.
"It was looked into by police and wasn't taken any further, as the person involved who is accused is out of the country," he testified.
The priest was 'on loan' to the Broome Diocese from a religious order in southern India called Heralds of Good News.
Bishop Saunders said he contacted them to see if the accused priest could be returned to Australia.
"I rang his superior to tell him that when he returned from vacation, he would be stood down while there was a police investigation taking place," he said.
It appears Father Ramesh Babu Katru is still a practising Catholic priest, with a profile under that name listed on the website of the Heralds of Good News.
The order's administrators have not responded to the ABC's request for comment.
Priest case #2: Priest fathers child
The second incident involved a Kimberley priest who returned overseas after getting a local schoolteacher pregnant.
Father Nicholas Kipkemboi was brought to the Kimberley on a religious visa from Eldoret, Kenya, in 2011.
He left five years later after becoming embroiled in a sex scandal in a remote Aboriginal community, and fathering a child in a second parish.
The trouble started in 2011 at a small bush parish in the East Kimberley when a local Aboriginal woman accused Father Kipkemboi of having consensual sex with her in the mission buildings, but then denying it publicly.
Locals say it developed into an ugly and violent conflict.
One witness, who didn't want to be identified due to potential fallout within the community, said the woman repeatedly chased and attempted to assault the priest she claimed to be in a relationship with.
"She got so mad, she would scream at the priest, and throw stones and rocks at the mission buildings to try to make him come out and talk to her," the witness said.
"One time she chased after him and kept trying to hit him with her handbag.
The situation got so bad that Bishop Saunders travelled to Kalumburu to intervene, and police were called in.
The woman was banned from entering the Catholic mission buildings and church, which distressed her further as she was unable to attend choir or funerals.
Asked about it in August, 2018, Bishop Saunders told ABC News that he had investigated.
"She made an allegation and I did investigate, but he [Father Nicholas Kipkemboi] denied it," he said.
"There was never any allegation of criminal behaviour… it was a situation of 'he said, she said'."
A year later, he moved Father Kipkemboi to a different Kimberley parish, 500 kilometres away.
The posting didn't last long — within a year, it was revealed the priest had a sexual relationship with a local schoolteacher, and she had fallen pregnant with his child.
Bishop Saunders confirmed in the 2018 interview that Father Kipkemboi then returned to his home diocese in Kenya.
"They were two consenting adults and something happened that was very unpriestly," he said.
"What happened was untoward and not the sort of behaviour one wants of a priest, so I moved him back to his own diocese."
It is not known if Nicholas Kipkemboi is still a priest in Kenya, or what action was taken in response to his breach of celibacy.
The Diocese of Broome and the Diocese of Eldoret in Kenya have not responded to requests for comment.
An abuse of power?
Indigenous academic Dr Hannah McGlade says the incident is particularly concerning given the historical vulnerability of Aboriginal women in the diocese.
Dr McGlade, whose work focuses on justice for Indigenous people and family violence and sexual assault, says priests remain powerful and venerated figures in mission communities, where generations of Aboriginal people were raised by the Catholic Church.
"I think that priest held a position of power and authority, and for the Aboriginal women who made the original allegations of a sexual relationship, the ramifications will have been quite severe.
"Especially when you find out he's gone on to get a woman pregnant in another town.
Mr Collins, who remains a practising Catholic, says the two incidents highlight the problems with Australia's dependency on overseas-born priests brought in on short-term visas.
He says more than half of parish priests in Australia are foreign-born and trained, with most brought in on religious visas from countries like India, Nigeria, and the Philippines.
"Most of them do reasonably well, but there is a small minority that bring a kind of clericalism that manifests in their attitude toward women," he said.
"There are also issues with accountability, because what most people don't understand about the Catholic Church is [that it is] an enormous mass of feudal enclaves that defend their borders very, very vigorously.
"Which can result — in my opinion – in these regional and remote parishes being treated appallingly."
It's not known if the investigation into the Diocese of Broome was discussed during a recent meeting between Pope Francis and the Vatican's Ambassador to Australia.
Bishop Adolfo Tito Yllana travelled from Canberra to Rome for a meeting with the Pope in October.