The northern flock now has a new shepherd, although it comes amid controversy. Geraldton Bishop Michael Morrissey has been given the mammoth task of overseeing an area covering three-quarters of the State with his appointment as interim administrator of the Broome Diocese, after Bishop Christopher Saunders handed his resignation to Pope Francis late last month. Bishop Saunders, who served in the Kimberley for almost 50 years, has been dogged by misconduct allegations — concerning claims of a sexual nature as well as financial mismanagement and bullying — in recent years. Both the Vatican and WA Police launched separate investigations into his behaviour, but Bishop Saunders has strongly denied any wrongdoing. “Despite the distance, I do get around to all the parishes every year, and that won’t change,” he said. Bishop Morrissey has known Bishop Saunders since they were classmates in an Adelaide seminary in 1973. He doesn’t believe Bishop Saunders was forced to resign by the Vatican; rather, that the decision was voluntary. “He wasn’t persuaded … he’s been Bishop for 25 years, priest for 45 years,” he said. “He felt it’s time. He’s run out of energy, so now it’s time to move on and allow the Pope to choose a new bishop.” Bishop Saunders stood aside in March 2020 while WA Police investigated claims of sexual misconduct, but no charges were laid. The Vatican conducted an internal investigation into the bishop’s financial management and allegations of bullying in November last year. Bishop Saunders was sent on a six-month sabbatical during this time. Findings were submitted to church officials, but no results have been released to the public. While Bishop Morrissey’s appointment to the Broome Diocese is temporary, he’s settling in for the long haul. It is common for there to be a gap of more than a year between the resignation of one Bishop and the appointment of another. Bishop Morrissey said his succession from former Bishop of Geraldton Justin Bianchini took 16 months. “Given the remoteness ... it’s trying to find the right person, and that might take longer,” he said. Normally the selection process would be overseen by the apostolic nuncio to Australia, a diplomat representing the Holy See. However, Archbishop Adolfo Yllana was reassigned as apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine in June, leaving no Papal diplomat in Australia. Given current travel restrictions, Bishop Morrissey believes it “might be some time” before a new nuncio can be found and selection for a new leader of the Broome Diocese can begin. In the meantime, he said he would focus on listening to the concerns of the Catholic population of Broome and to be “the good shepherd” for Broome’s nine priests. “Broome is not abandoned” he said.