The following comes from a July 19 story in the Tidings, the Los Angeles archdiocese paper.
At the trial of Gregory Yusuke Shiga, accused of starting the Hacienda Heights’ conflagration that burnt St. John Vianney Church to the ground, Father Ricardo “Ricky” Viveros testified two hours for the prosecution.
He was the associate pastor who awoke in his rectory bedroom to the sound of shattering glass in the early hours of April 16, 2011. Looking out an upstairs window, he saw flames engulfing the California mission-style church that Cardinal James Francis McIntrye had dedicated in November 1969.
Earlier this month, Shiga, a 35-year-old parolee, was convicted of aggravated arson and four other related felony charges.
As the Tidings went to press, Shiga faced up to life in prison for using rolls of toilet paper soaked in a flammable liquid to destroy the church. The San Gabriel Valley landmark off the 60 Freeway had a travertine marble altar, an enamel in-laid tabernacle and a large stained glass window depicting St. John Vianney, the famed Cure of Ars.
While he was waiting in the hallway to testify during the two-week trial in Pomona, Father Viveros was taken aback when the arsonist’s sister approached him to ask, “Are you one of the priests at St. John Vianney?”
“Yes, I am,” he said.
Crying, the woman blurted out, “Father, I’m so sorry for what happened. Will you forgive me, us?”
At first the priest couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. It was as if the Gospel was playing out right there in the courthouse. “We’ve been praying for your family since the night of the fire,” he said. “We want your brother to get to heaven. That’s what we hope for. And we hope that your family finds peace with it, too, because I know you must also be suffering.”
He watched her face brighten with relief that the victims of her brother’s horrendous act felt more compassion than contempt towards her family.
Father Viveros was also in the courtroom with St. John Vianney’s pastor, Msgr. Tim Nichols — who was away that terrible night, recovering from a severe fall — and about 10 members of the suburban parish for closing arguments. He heard the accused, who represented himself, try to justify his actions by saying the Catholic Church had done “bad things.”
He also heard Deputy L.A. County District Attorney Renee Rose counter with the argument that the defendant, like many arsonists, according to social scientists, was really seeking attention. But law enforcement authorities never did pin down a clear motive….
Shiga, then 33, broke into St. John Vianney Church at 1345 Turnbull Canyon Road a little past midnight on that April Saturday. He placed rolls of flammable-soaked toilet paper throughout the church, used a device to saturate the walls and ceiling with an accelerant, and even opened windows to create a draft for the fire. The result was it turned into a roaring inferno in under 50 seconds.
Los Angeles County firefighters battled the stubborn blaze for more than six hours with flames reaching 100 feet high from the 20,000-plus square foot sanctuary. The fire also damaged the adjacent rectory. No one was injured, but the total damage came to about $9 million.
After the fire, Shiga bragged to an undercover officer that he was the one who had torched the church. But it took the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI a year to conduct a complex investigation before his arrest May 14, 2012. At the time, Shiga was on parole after pleading “no contest” to sexual battery of female students at Rio Hondo College in Whittier….
To read the entire story, click here.