Australian Bishop Christopher Saunders has been charged with rape and sex offences, including some with children.

The 74-year-old was arrested in Broome on Wednesday, and he has said he will plead not guilty.

The bishop is charged with two counts of rape, 14 counts of unlawful and indecent assault, and three counts of indecently dealing with a child as a person in authority. The allegations take place between 2008 and 2014. Saunders became bishop in 1996.

He’s been released on bail and will appear in court in June. He has been ordered to reside at his home in Broome.

“Allegations against the former Bishop of Broome, Christopher Saunders are very serious and deeply distressing, especially for those making those allegations,” said Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, the head of the bishops’ conference.

“It is right and proper, and indeed necessary, that all such allegations be thoroughly investigated. The Church will continue to cooperate fully with the police and take every necessary step to avoid any actions which may compromise the integrity and autonomy of the police investigation,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

Saunders was known for his advocacy work in the diocese, and even had a beer named after him. He was also known for taking young people on camping and fishing trips.

Allegations were first made against him in 2020, but no charges were made after a police investigation, although Saunders voluntarily resigned from office, becoming bishop emeritus. However, the Vatican launched an investigation in 2022 about child abuse allegations, and a 200-page report was later leaked, and Western Australia police relaunched their investigation.

In September, Australia’s 7News interviewed two of the people who accused Saunders of abuse.

One man said Saunders offered the use of his shower after he did some gardening for the bishop. The man alleges he was in the shower when the bishop came in with him.

“He started washing me with soap and shampoo, rubbing me all over my body – in my private part, my front part,” the man told 7News. “I was scared. He was a big fella and I was just a teenager at the time.”

The man told the television news service Saunders started giving him cash and presents, and once flew him to Melbourne to see his first game of the AFL and stayed in the same hotel room.

The second man told 7News the bishop would get young men drunk and demand they remove their shorts and shirts.

“I seen him kiss and hug … and touch them in the private parts you know,” he said. “I was really shocked,” adding  Saunders’s was “pretty disgusting.”

One of the alleged victims told 7News the bishop “should be behind bars or given the sack from the Catholic Church.”