By Taxpayers Association of Oregon Foundation,
Police have arrested a 48-year-old suspect in the early morning arson fire that damaged St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in downtown Salem in late August. Billy James Sweeten remains in Marion County Jail on charges of first-degree arson in the blaze that began in a nearby dumpster shortly before 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 31 and spread to the roof of the church at 721 Chemeketa St. NE, according to KGW.com. About 70 firefighters responded to the blaze. He has a previous record of arson.
The church has been holding Mass service in the parking lot.
Nobody was injured, but Father Jeff Meeuwsen was evacuated from another building on the property. More than 200 parishioners gathered for Mass in the church parking lot shortly after the fire, the Salem Statesman Journal reported.
Although the present brick church opened in 1953, St. Joseph’s is the oldest Catholic parish in Salem, beginning in a rented building in the 1850s. Mass is celebrated in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Latin. A nearby school that serves 175 students from preschool through eighth grade has minimal smoke damage from the fire.
This is the story of Portland’s crime wave; criminals who commit outrageous acts only to be given light treatment and allowed to re-commit the same acts.