Australian police were probing whether victims of two paedophile priests were involved in a series of blazes that erupted at churches were the late clergymen served in the past. Detectives in Victoria described the fires that almost destroyed a Catholic church and damaged two others as suspicious.
The week leading to Easter started with flames almost burning to the ground the 123-year-old St James Church in Melbourne's seaside suburb of Brighton.
The same day separate fire caused limited damage at the St Mary's Church in the nearby district of St Kilda East.
Both parishes were among those served by Ronald Dennis Pickering, a priest who allegedly abused dozens of boys across the city from 1958 to the early 1990s, when he fled the country as accusations started to emerge, local media reported. He died in his native Britain a few years ago without ever facing justice.
"Pickering escaped, the church didn't assist in bringing him to justice, when victims turned to the church they offered them no support, and then he died," a former St Mary's altar boy who was abused by the priest some 50 years ago told The Age newspaper. "If a victim is lighting these fires, it's a symptom of anger. But you certainly don't want to encourage this as a way of dealing with anger."
Two days later an overnight fire erupted at the St Mary's Catholic Church in the suburb of Dandenong. The parish was linked to another Melbourne paedophile priest, Kevin O'Donnell, who died in 1997 shortly after serving 15 months in jail for indecent assault on 12 children aged between 8 and 15.
"I came out of my back gate and at the windows there I could see something reminiscent of the Towering Inferno," St Mary's current parish priest, Father Declan O'Brien told ABC News Australia. "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".
Both O'Donnell and Pickering featured in a 2013 list by the Australian Catholic Church naming 29 Melbourne priests who it said were guilty of sexually abused children, according to the BBC.
Police said they were investigating if there were any links between the three fires.