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Churches burn across Melbourne

NEWS | Tess Holgate
Wednesday 1 April 2015

Three Catholic churches with links to alleged or convicted paedophile priests have been targeted by arsonists in the last few days.

St Mary’s Catholic church in Dandenong, in Melbourne’s east was set alight in the early hours of this morning, the third in a series of arson attacks on Catholic churches across East and South-East Melbourne. St James’ Brighton and St Mary’s in St Kilda East were set on fire early Monday morning.

Authorities are treating the fires as suspicious.

The ABC and The Age are reporting that all three churches have connections to alleged or convicted paedophile priests.

The ABC reports that Peter Elliot, the regional Bishop for the South told Fairfax Radio he did not believe the fires were linked to anger over paedophilia, but were instead the work of a “very disturbed person”.

St James in Brighton and St Mary’s in St Kilda East are both linked to Ronald Dennis Pickering, who fled to the UK and died there in 2012. He never faced charges for child abuse.

Kevin O’Donnell was the priest at St Mary’s in Dandenong for 28 years, and later served time for 12 counts of child abuse. He died in 1997.

Shane Healy, Director of Media and Communications for the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne says, “everyone is in a bit of shock at the moment. We’re all coming to terms with three fires in 72 hours.

“That this has happened right on the eve of Holy Week… we have empathy and sorrow for those who have been affected.

“We have to be solid together and support each other through this difficult time,” says Healy.

The Easter masses originally scheduled for St Mary’s Dandenong have been relocated to the school hall. Those planned for St James Brighton will be moved into the Star of the Sea chapel, right next door to the church.

Image: Erik Olsen on Flickr, used under CC License.

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