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  3 Diocese Priests Are Facing Jail
Church Watchers Say Rate of Tucson Convictions Rare

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star [Tucson AZ]
Downloaded May 3, 2003

Three priests who worked in the Catholic Diocese of Tucson became convicted felons this spring and are now facing prison time for sexual impropriety with boys.

Experts say three convictions within a month is rare and puts Tucson ahead of many areas in the country that are only beginning to try priests on charges of sexually abusing minors.

"They are kind of ahead of the curve," said Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk who is now a writer and researcher specializing in the Catholic Church. "A lot of priests are being tried right now but as far as I know, it is unusual to have three convicted back to back."

And David Clohessy of St. Louis, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said, "There were four in Detroit but that was over the course of nine months.

"It's encouraging because so many of them never, ever are criminally charged."

The three Tucson Diocese priests with felony convictions are:

* The Rev. Juan Guillen, 59, who is in the Yuma County Jail and is expected to be sentenced early this summer for two counts of attempted child molestation. He is facing at least five years and up to 15 in prison.

A former associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Yuma, Guillen was arrested at work in August on charges that he molested three altar boys between 1989 and summer 2002. A fourth victim was added to the charges this year.

Guillen pleaded guilty in Yuma County Superior Court April 16, bringing the original 13 charges against him down to two felony convictions. He had been scheduled to be sentenced next week but the court date has been moved pending a psychological evaluation of the Mexican-born priest.

* The Rev. Thomas Purcell, 61, who is in the Pima County Jail awaiting sentencing on three counts of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of attempted sexual conduct with a minor relating to the sexual abuse of a South Tucson boy in the early 1980s.

Purcell is facing at least five years and up to 42 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for June 9 in Pima County Superior Court. He was arrested last month in Illinois after he was convicted in absentia.

* The Rev. Julian Sanz, 53, who is scheduled to be sentenced on two counts of sexual abuse May 29 in Cochise County Superior Court. Sanz, pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Douglas, was arrested in February on five felony charges related to allegations from 1982 and 2002.

Sanz, who pleaded guilty last month, is facing prison time but probation is also an option, Cochise County prosecutor Chris Roll said. Sanz, a native of Spain, is believed to be living in Pirtleville while awaiting sentencing. Although he was briefly incarcerated after his February arrest, Sanz was able to post his $75,000 bond and was released.

Catholic Diocese of Tucson spokesman Fred Allison said the cases of Sanz and Guillen are particularly troubling to the church because some allegations concern activity that reportedly occurred just last year, in the midst of a barrage of media coverage of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

Allison said that although the cases of Sanz and Guillen are sad and painful, the diocese did the right thing in both - reporting the allegations immediately to authorities.

Another fact that makes these three cases stand out is that the 106-year-old Tucson Diocese has not had a priest convicted of sexual abuse in more than 25 years - not since the mid-'70s when the Rev. L. Luke Meunier de la Pierre, a visiting priest, was convicted of child molestation.

De la Pierre worked in Yuma and Wellton and with the altar boy program at Our Mother of Sorrows Church, 1800 S. Kolb Road.

Diocese officials believe Meunier de la Pierre is dead. He was one of four priests named in 11 civil actions settled with 10 men and their family members in January 2002 over allegations of sexual abuse by local clergy. The amount of the settlement is estimated to be as high as $16 million.

Since that settlement, the diocese has been hit with seven more civil lawsuits that are still in the early stages of litigation, and Bishop Manuel D. Moreno, spiritual leader of the diocese for 21 years, took early retirement. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, who came to Tucson from the Archdiocese of Chicago, is now bishop.

Since last year's settlement, the diocese has also made public the names of 25 clerics - including Guillen, Purcell and Sanz - who have "credible" accusations of child abuse against them. The dates of the clerics' service goes back to the 1950s.

Sanz and Guillen are among three of the priests on the list who were considered "active" - still assigned to a parish - when they were suspended due to the child abuse allegations.

Clohessy said the criminal statute of limitations for so many of the cases coming to the surface now prevents prosecution. Although diocese officials refer to one diocesan priest - Monsignor Robert C. Trupia - as a "notorious and serial" sexual predator, he has not been prosecuted because the reported abuse occurred in the early 1970s. Trupia remains a diocesan priest though he's been suspended from active duty. The diocese continues to pay him but is trying to have him permanently removed from the priesthood.

"Many, many priests who abuse children will escape because of the statute of limitations - dozens and dozens," Clohessy of the survivors group said.

Clohessy added that priests who are convicted are much less likely to be punished as severely as a child molester who is not a cleric, though a child sexual abuse conviction in most states can carry a punishment ranging from probation to life in prison depending on the circumstances.

"I think on balance they are more manipulative, shrewd and charismatic," Clohessy said of priests who sexually abuse minors. "A less socially skilled molester is more likely to get caught and is less adept at rallying supporters. The priest has a built-in base of support and loyalty, and in many instances judges feel pressure from above and below. They are deluged by parishioners and lobbying from church officials."

Clohessy said that this year there have been priests convicted of child abuse who got no jail time at all - one in Michigan and one in Wisconsin. Those cases prompted representatives of Clohessy's organization to attend the sentencings and put pressure on the judicial system.

He cited one such sentencing coming up involving former Henderson, Nev., priest Mark Roberts, who may not serve any jail time for molesting young boys in his parish. The victims in the case have already staged an informational protest outside the Clark County Courthouse.

Sipe said the fact that a diocese as small as Tucson has a list of 25 clerics with credible accusations of sexually abusing children should concern the community. He added that Tucson's sexual abuse scandal has attracted national attention because of the "pattern and practice" of sexual abuse by some of its priests.

Lynne M. Cadigan, the Tucson attorney who represented the victims in last year's civil settlement, agrees.

"This diocese needs to examine why it was a dumping ground for other dioceses and they need to provide more outreach to the victims from the parishioners as well as the church hierarchy."

Many of the victims in the sexual abuse cases say they have been ostracized by other Catholics for speaking up against the abuse.

Other Catholic parishioners are voicing their support for the priests, in spite of the charges against them. Parishioners at Guillen's church, for example, last summer posted the required 10 percent of his $108,023 bail amount and were able to get him released from jail, though since his conviction he's been imprisoned again.

* Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or sinnes@azstarnet.com.

 
 

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