SYDNEY (AFP) - One of the most senior members of the Catholic Church in Australia has stepped down from his role after being charged with child sex abuse, the Church said on Monday.
Max Davis, who heads the church's military diocese, is reportedly Australia's most senior clergyman and the first Australian Catholic bishop to be charged with a child sex offence.
It is alleged that he sexually abused a student while teaching at St Benedict's College near Perth in 1969 - two years before he was ordained. No further details were provided by police.
The Catholic Military Ordinariate of Australia said in a statement that Davis, 68, "emphatically denies" the charge. "An allegation has been made to the police that in 1969 Bishop Max Davis abused a student at St. Benedict's College in New Norcia," the statement said.
"At that time - 45 years ago - the bishop was not ordained. The bishop emphatically denies the allegation and the charge will be defended."
The Australian Defence Force said Davis had stood aside from his position while the matter was dealt with by the courts. "Defence is aware civilian police have laid charges against Bishop Max Davis," a spokesman said. "Bishop Davis has stood aside from his office as Catholic bishop of the ADF and Catholic member of the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services.
"It would be inappropriate for Defence to comment further while this matter is subject to judicial proceedings."
The charge comes with a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse underway in Australia after growing pressure to investigate widespread allegations of paedophilia, mostly in the Catholic Church. Its hearings are covering harrowing allegations of child abuse involving places of worship, orphanages, community groups and schools.
The military is separately conducting its own national inquiry into abuse after the service was rocked by claims of rape and sexual assault, a culture of cover-ups and a failure to punish perpetrators.
Davis, who has been the top military bishop since 2003, is expected to appear in court in July.