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Monday, April 13, 2015

3 Catholic Churches Burnt in Melbourne Easter Weekend

Churches with histories of pedophilia torched
to the delight of even some Catholics

St James Catholic Church North Road, East Brighton was gutted.
Pic: Nicole Garmston
Father Kevin O'Donnell molested children at St Mary’s church, Dandenong, which was set alight overnight.

THREE Catholic churches set alight in Melbourne in as many days were for decades the scenes of horrific sexual abuse inflicted on scores of children by notorious paedophile priests.

Police are investigating the cause of the string of suspicious blazes at buildings of worship as neighbouring churches increase security.

Early yesterday, emergency crews rushed to extinguish a blaze at St Mary’s in Dandenong a fire was lit on the church’s alter and another in the storeroom of the 151-year-old building.

The blaze is the third to be investigated at a historic Melbourne church in as many days, with St Mary’s Church in St Kilda East and St James’s Church in Brighton each gutted by flames after being set alight in the early hours of Monday morning.

Links to paedophiles at each of the Catholic churches have sparked suspicion of revenge attacks.

The Dandenong church, which sustained $250,000 worth of damages after firefighters battled for 90 minutes to extinguish the fire this morning, was presided over by convicted paedophile priest Kevin O’Donnell from 1958 to 1986.

O’Donnell found his first victim at the church, a 15-year-old altar boy, when he started at the age of 41 — the historic building the scene of the crime.

John Kevin O'Donnell Catholic priest plead guilty to sexually molesting children
The priest sexually molested the boy, and went on to abuse the teenager’s brother, sister, friends and scores of other children, Fairfax reports.

Among O’Donnell’s victims were boys and girls as young as five, and he was not convicted until 1995, years after he retired.

The then 78-year-old retired priest was convicted of indecently assaulting 10 boys and two girls under the age of 16. After spending 15 months in jail he was freed in 1996 and died the following year.

A Melbourne bishop has hit back at claims the third suspicious church fire is linked to clergy sexual abuse.

Bishop Peter Elliott told 3AW the church didn’t believe the fires were linked, or started by someone who had been sexually abused by priests.

He said they were probably started by someone with a “disturbed mind”.

Most sexually abused children grow up with 'disturbed minds'. You should know that!

Earlier in the week, actor Rachel Griffiths expressed “great relief” at the suspected arson attack on St James Church in Brighton, a known crime scene for sexual abuse for many years.

The heritage-listed building was once home to notorious priest Father Ronald Pickering, a now deceased priest who was never convicted of sex offences, but was found to have abused children at a 2013 Victorian government inquiry.

St James Catholic Church North Road, East Brighton was gutted.
Pic: Nicole Garmston
“I was quite elated, like many of my generation, when I heard the news this morning,” said Six Feet Under star Rachel Griffiths on Monday.

“It’s always been difficult for us to drive past because there’s been so much tragedy and complicated feeling, I guess.

“We’ve all attended many funerals of boys that we now know were abused by [Father Ronald] Pickering … at the actual church that it occurred in.”

The actor, a practising Catholic, said she and friends had “avoided being married there” and saw the church as “a bit of a thorn”.

At least five Melbourne men and women were found to have killed themselves after suffering abuse by Pickering between 1960 and 1980, according to research carried out in 2012.

Though he was never brought to trial over his offences before he died in 2009, the Catholic Church admitted he was guilty of sexual abuse.

St Mary's East St Kilda, where Pickering is believed to have carried out abuse.
Picture: Yuri Kouzmin
One of Pickering’s victims told the Victorian government inquiry of the abuse he suffered as an altar boy between the ages of nine and 13.

He groomed me by giving me cigarettes, money and alcohol,” he said.

“Over this four-year period (1979 — 1983) I am aware that two other boys were also sexually abused by Father Ronald Pickering.

“I was regularly fondled and petted by Pickering.”

St Mary's Church in East St Kilda,
fire bombed  on the same day that
 St James church was destroyed
Pic: Yuri Kouzmin
The victim also told the inquiry another boy Pickering had abused died after the priest gave him money for heroin.

He told the inquiry in his statement he had attempted suicide at the age of 16, and told of other boys’ experiences who were abused by Pickering.

“I now have several vivid memories of the sexual abuses, as well as some vague flashes due to the state of intoxication,” he said.

“One night after one of the boys paid a visit to Pickering, he attempted suicide. He was unsuccessful on this attempt, but he would go on to successfully commit suicide a short time later.”

The royal commission into sex abuse has highlighted extensive abuse and cover-up by the Catholic Church in Australia.

Catholic churches in Melbourne are increasing security following the fires, Bishop Elliott told 3AW.

He said he did not believe the attacks were linked to historic abuse, but noted Catholic churches had been susceptible to spates of attacks in the past.

“We’ve had phases of attacks on churches. About 15 years ago there were a spate of them in the Malvern/Camberwell area and then we had the case of the beautiful church at Chelsea nine years ago, which was restored later.”

A police spokeswoman could not confirm police were investigating whether the three fires are linked.

St Kilda, Brighton, & Dandenong are all south-southeast of central Melbourne