Snubbed out

A forensic officer gathers evidence at St Mary's Church on Wednesday.

By CAM LUCADOU-WELLS

POLICE have played down links between convicted paedophile priest Kevin O’Donnell and a suspicious blaze that damaged one of Dandenong’s biggest and oldest churches last Wednesday.
The St Mary’s Catholic Church, which was built in 1959, was damaged by two fires – one at the altar and one in the sacristy – about 2.30am.
The sacristy – an out-building storage area for vestments and silverware as well as a workshop and kitchen – was extensively damaged with flames burning through the floor.
Its roof was torn open by fire fighters in a bid to save the double-brick structure.
Last weekend’s Easter services, which normally attract several thousand worshipers, were moved to the nearby St Mary’s Primary School hall.
The fires closely followed suspicious blazes at two Catholic churches in Brighton and St Kilda East in recent days.
Accused paedophile priest Ronald Dennis Pickering had been a priest at both churches.
The fires saddened current priest Declan O’Brien and a stunned group of parishioners who surveyed the damange last Wednesday.
“It makes me feel sick. It’s not a good feeling,” Fr O’Brien said.
He said he felt he and the church were an “innocent victim” of the suspected arsonist.
“We’re not sure of the motivation of the person or persons behind this.”
Greater Dandenong councillor John Kelly, one of St Mary’s 3000 parishioners and former altar-boy, said any vendetta theories were speculation.
“It’s bloody disappointing if it’s someone who physically lit it – it’s a low act.
“It will come back – the (structural) body of the church is saved and we have a fantastic priest and he’ll get it rocking and rolling again.”
Last Wednesday Detective Senior Constable Nicholas Hayes of Greater Dandenong CIU said there was nothing yet to link the “suspicious” fire to the two other church blazes.
“It’s going to be investigated to its fullest. There’s nothing to suggest the three are related at this stage.“
Anyone with information about the fires is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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