Church burglaries 'acts of rage and revenge'

A MAN sexually abused by a priest as a six-year-old exacted revenge, unleashing his ''deeply entrenched hatred'' for the Catholic order by burgling dozens of its churches across suburban Melbourne.

A judge heard the man's ''rancour and rage'' against the Catholic Church surfaced 20 years ago in South Australia when he was first convicted of the offence of ''sacrilege''.

His barrister told the County Court on Friday that after his client's removal a year ago as a worker with the St Vincent de Paul Society, the ''rage and anger that has so dominated his life took over and he became unstable''.

Mark Regan said the man, now 44, had a ''deeply entrenched belief system of the wrong perpetrated against him'' by the priest and the Catholic Church which he resented.

The man, who cannot be named, pleaded guilty to 59 charges of mostly aggravated burglary, burglary and theft that involved more than 30 churches and parish houses and a respite school and presbytery.

Prosecutor Catharine Sedgwick detailed how the man offended against ''soft targets'' over seven months from Camberwell to Dandenong, Essendon to Ringwood and Epping, Balwyn and Coburg until his arrest last May.

Ms Sedgwick said he ransacked offices and stole money from safes, cash boxes, donation envelopes and raffle payments, sometimes while priests slept.

He told police he felt his crimes were ''payback'' for being molested and was handed a phone book in custody to mark the churches he burgled.

Mr Regan distinguished the nature of the burglaries from domestic-related, residential targets and submitted the man acted covertly and avoided confrontations.

His mother confirmed in evidence her son was about six when he told her a priest had molested him by ''playing with parts of my body he shouldn't be touching''.

She reported the matter to police but ''nothing was ever done'' and told the judge much of his obsessiveness and unresolved anger stemmed from that.

''I should have done a lot more than I did,'' she lamented.

Mr Regan said his client, who has a history of mental illness, spent the money on accommodation and gambling.

The man will be sentenced at a later date.

This story Church burglaries 'acts of rage and revenge' first appeared on The Age.