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  Tucson Priest Is Charged in Sex Abuse

By Stephanie Innes
Tucson Daily Star
December 6, 2006

http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/159177

A Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson priest is facing criminal charges for accusations that he sexually abused boys more than 20 years ago.

The Rev. Gary E. Underwood has been indicted on counts of sexual conduct with a minor and child molestation, the Pima County Attorney's Office said.

He's accused of victimizing two boys under the age of 15 in 1983 and 1984, Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer said Tuesday.

"He's innocent and we look forward to litigating," Underwood's attorney, Dan Cooper, said. Cooper said Underwood is currently free on bond, but he would not say where the priest is living.

Mayer says the molestations occurred while Underwood, now in his early 50s, was a priest at St. Odilia's Catholic Church, 7570 N. Paseo del Norte, on Tucson's Northwest Side.

Officials with the Tucson diocese would not comment on Underwood's case Tuesday, referring all inquiries to Mayer.

The diocese's directory lists Underwood as being on leave from the diocese and serving as a chaplain at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, La.

Under diocese policy on allegations of child abuse, Underwood is now suspended from the priesthood.

The diocese already has made public a list of 30 priests, two deacons and one nun with credible allegations of abuse against them. The diocese created the list in 2002, after reaching a $14 million settlement with 10 men who said they had repressed memories of being sexually abused as children by four local clergy members in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

Mayer said Underwood, who was arraigned Nov. 17, is facing eight charges. If convicted, he faces prison time, though Mayer was uncertain how much time.

Mayer said Underwood served at St. Odilia's from 1982 to 1988.

Mayer's office learned about the case from the diocese, which heard about accusations from a family member of one of the men who says he was abused.

Three priests who once worked in the diocese have already been sent to prison for sexual abuse °™ the Rev. Jul®™an Sanz, the former pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Douglas, who in 2003 was sentenced to five years for sexually abusing an 11-year-old altar boy during confession in 1982; the Rev. Juan Guillen, the former associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Yuma, who is serving 10 years for two counts of attempted child molestation in connection with sexually abusing altar boys; and the Rev. Thomas Purcell a member of the Society of Mary Religious order, who is serving 9.5 years for sexually abusing a South Tucson boy in the 1980s.

Facing a spate of potentially expensive lawsuits over the sexual abuse by priests in 2004, the diocese entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Last year, it became the first Catholic diocese in the country to emerge from Chapter 11 and created a fund of more than $20 million for people who were sexually abused.

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

 
 

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