Monday 22 January 2018

Three paedophile-linked churches in Australia burned down in three days

St James Catholic church in Brighton, Australia Credit: Nicole Garmston
St James Catholic church in Brighton, Australia Credit: Nicole Garmston

Jonathan Pearlman

Three churches in the Australian city of Melbourne – all linked to prominent paedophile priests – have been burnt in the past three days in what is suspected to be a series of revenge attacks.

Police believe the fires are suspicious but have so far found no links between them.

The latest church to be destroyed was St Mary’s Catholic Church, one of several parishes in which Kevin O’Donnell, a notorious paedophile, preyed on children during a 50-year career in Melbourne.

The fire started about 2:30am, local time on Tuesday.

O’Donnell, then aged 78, was finally charged and pleaded guilty in 1995 to indecently assaulting ten boys and two girls, aged between eight and 15.

He spent 15 months in jail and was freed in 1996 before dying the following year.

Two other churches damaged earlier this week were both linked to Ronald Pickering, who preyed on young boys from 1978 to 1993 before fleeing to Britain.

Pickering was never prosecuted but died about three years ago.

At least five of his victims killed themselves.

Peter Elliott, a regional Catholic bishop in the state of Victoria, said he did not believe the fires were started by a sex abuse victim but by someone with a “very disturbed mind”.

“I don’t see any pattern so far, except a very disturbed person,” he told Fairfax Media.

The fires at St Mary’s church in Dandenong, St James Church in Brighton and St Mary’s in St Kilda East occurred just days before the busy Easter services.

Father Declan O’Brien, the parish priest in Dandenong, said he was woken by smoke alarms and discovered a scene that was “something reminiscent of the Towering Inferno”.

“I’m trying my best to hold onto the Christian principle of forgiveness and at the moment as a human being, it’s very hard to do that,” he told ABC News.“I can understand people being angry. I just don’t get why even if they’re angry it’s justifiable that you’d attack a church building.”

A national royal commission into child sex abuse has uncovered horrific crimes and cover-ups at churches, schools and other religious and communal organisations throughout Australia.

A separate Victorian parliamentary inquiry was completed in 2013 and found that thousands of children were abused in the state by the Catholic church and other organisations.

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