Juvenile charged in Melrose church fire

A juvenile was charged with arson in the first degree for the fire that damaged St. Mary Church in Melrose in March 2016, according to a news release June 20 from the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office. The juvenile was 13 years old at the time of the offense.

The juvenile confessed that they intentionally set the fire, the news release stated.

The Juvenile Court proceedings are by law confidential because of the juvenile’s age at the time of the offense. No further information about those proceedings can or will be released, the statement said.

Bishop Donald Kettler said he is thankful for the persistence and commitment of the local, state and federal authorities who investigated this arson case.

“I hope this news can be another step in the healing process for the people of St. Mary’s Church in Melrose,” Bishop Kettler said. “I and the people of our diocese have been praying for the Melrose community since the time of the fire, and we will continue to offer whatever support they need as they work to build a new church and plan for the future.”

He also asked for prayers from the people of the Diocese of St. Cloud.

“I also will be praying for the youth who was charged and for their family,” he said. “I hope they, too, receive the help they need. As Christians, we are committed to justice, but justice must always be tempered by mercy, and it must never abandon hope for a person’s reform.”

Authorities stated publicly for the first time in May 2016 that they believed the fire was “incendiary,” or “intentionally set.”

People stopped to survey the fire damage to St. Mary Church in Melrose throught the morning March 12, 2016. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

The Melrose community has been divided over whether to rebuild or restore the church since the 2016 fire. Initially the parish submitted a proposal to the Diocesan Building Commission for full restoration of the existing structure which was rejected. About 450 people gathered in February at Melrose High School to see a proposal for a new church. An additional 250 people tuned in to the live video stream through the parish’s website.

The parish created a church building team to move the plans forward for a new building which would be located near the current church site and school. A delegation from St Mary’s presented a proposal June 12 for the new worship space and facilities to the Diocesan Building Commission, according to the church’s website oneinfaith.org.

About The Visitor

The Visitor is the official newpaper for the Diocese of Saint Cloud.

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