Guilty Priest Tells of Life As Gay
Awaits Sentencing over Sex Crime against Minor
By Jim Walsh and Kelly Pearce
June 22, 1993
The Rev. Wilputte Alanson "Lan" Sherwood subconsciously began hiding his secret life 34 years ago, when he entered a seminary to avoid revealing his homosexuality.
"I think a lot of why I went there was so I wouldn't have to go to a mainstream high school, because I wasn't sure I would know how to act," the Chandler priest said in a rambling March 11 interview with police.
"Because I knew - I don't think any of this was conscious - that people were going to wonder why I didn't have girlfriends, why I didn't date through all those teen-age years.
"I couldn't even do that as a cover - date girls."
Sherwood, 48, outlined his lifelong struggle between his church and his sexual appetites in a videotaped two-hour interview with Chandler police after his arrest on suspicion of sexual misconduct with a minor. The tape was released Monday after a legal battle with Sherwood's attorney.
Sherwood, who pleaded guilty last Tuesday to attempted sexual misconduct with a minor and attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, is to be sentenced next Tuesday by Judge Cheryl Hendrix of Maricopa County Superior Court. Both charges stem from Sherwood's sex acts with a 14-year-old boy on Sept. 22, 1987.
Sherwood's tightly guarded secret life finally surfaced when a 17-year-old whom Sherwood had picked up told police he fled after Sherwood made sexual advances.
Detectives serving a search warrant at Sherwood's home in the rectory of St. Benedict Church found detailed records and videotapes indicating that since 1984, the priest had had sex with 1,840 males, including 22 juveniles.
But in the interview, Sherwood denied being a pedophile and said that his ideal sex partner is a straight man in his late 20s.
"My only vice is men," he told Detective Jim Tollefson, adding he has never been a drinker or smoker.
The tape focuses on a lifelong internal conflict in which Sherwood struggled between his desire to be a priest and his homosexuality.
"There was a very thin line there," Sherwood said.
"I did my job, and I did it well. I didn't let either of those two worlds, my secret sex life or my life as a priest, overflow one into the other."
Sherwood's sexual encounters as a priest were mainly with hitchhikers or men he picked up at convenience stores, Chandler police said. In 1984 and 1986, he was convicted of exposing himself at Valley adult bookstores.
Sherwood, who was ordained 18 years ago, said he was recognized by other priests and at least one parishioner at adult bookstores, but he never mixed business with pleasure.
"It was so easy to do one and the other and not let them cross," Sherwood said. "I just somehow blocked that conflict out of my mind."
But under questioning from Tollefson, Sherwood admitted that he never completely separated the obvious hypocrisy between his vocation and his voracious sexual appetites.
Because of the Roman Catholic Church's condemnation of homosexuality, he told the detective he often has feared that "if I drop dead right now, I'd end up in hell."
But Sherwood said he never admitted his sexual escapades in the confessional, and during the interview, he did not speak passionately about a commitment to God.
The Phoenix native said he first realized he was gay when he was about 10.
He recalled going into the dressing room at a swimming pool at Encanto Park "more than I needed to" so he could look at naked men.
The priest said he believes he is gay because his father, who was divorced from his mother in 1953, also was gay.
After Sherwood graduated from college in 1967, he moved to San Francisco and lived with a gay man.
But after his roommate moved away, Sherwood decided to return to the Valley and study to become a priest. He described the move as a big mistake.
Bishop Thomas O'Brien of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix would not comment Monday on Sherwood's interview because church officials had not viewed the tape.
After his arrest, Sherwood resigned as pastor of St. Benedict. The Rev. Michael Diskin, an assistant diocesan chancellor, said Sherwood will remain on paid leave pending his sentencing, when a church inquiry will begin.
The arrest of numerous priests nationwide for a variety of sex crimes involving minors has forced the Catholic Church to face a problem the hierarchy has hidden for decades.
"The real issue is not whether it's 2 percent, 4 percent, 6 percent" of priests molesting children, said David Clohessy, national director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
"The real issue is why don't the bishops root these men out and get them help?" asked Clohessy, who says that as an altar boy, he was sexually abused by a priest for three years.
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