Bashed priest's Canberra church burnt

A priest who was bashed outside his parish church in Canberra's O'Connor suburb has suffered a new blow after church property sustained over $500,000 damage in two blazes yesterday that police say were deliberately lit.

The Age reports that the fire raged through the church yesterday, three years after the parish priest was bashed outside the building.

Fire officers said because of the church's unusual shape the structure acted as a chimney, causing a lot of damage.

Two fires, one in the church and another in the church hall, were discovered about 1.30am at St Joseph's in O'Connor.

Bishop Pat Power said he was most concerned about how the blaze would affect parish priest, the Rev Fr William Kennedy, who is in his 70s and was bashed just outside the church in 2004.

District Officer Mick Cochrane said it took about 25 firefighters two hours to extinguish the fires.

"Churches are not your usual structures, they're unique," he said.

This church, built in the early 1970s, has an unusual, star-shaped design which comes together in a high peak in the middle.

This acted like a chimney after the fire started, Mr Cochran said, and flames and smoke billowed out.

Mr Cochrane estimated the damage bill would be about $500,000.

The church had been affected by smoke and water but had little structural damage while the hall had been destroyed.

Bishop Power inspected the damage after hearing about the fire on the radio.

"It's just devastating for the parish," he told AAP.

Police said they believed both fires were deliberately lit and are doing forensic tests and doorknocking the area.

Bashed priest now faces burnt out church (The Age, 8/8/07)

9 Aug 2007