Priest Indicted on Sex Charges

By Blake Morlock
Tucson Citizen
September 13, 2002

The Bullhead City cleric is accused of molesting a S. Tucson teen 20 years ago.

A Catholic priest was indicted here this week on three counts of sexually abusing a teen-ager from 1982-83 and one count of attempted abuse.

The Rev. Thomas Patrick Purcell, 61, was arrested in Bullhead City yesterday and is in the Mohave County Jail on a $100,000 bail on charges that he sexually abused a man now living in California.

Sergio Enrique Flores, the California man, was living in South Tucson in the the early 1980s when Purcell befriended his family and acted as "a father figure" to the boy, said South Tucson police Detective Bryce Gardner.

Purcell was a visiting priest at St. Odilia Catholic Church, 7570 N. Paseo Del Norte, at the time the abuse took place and later moved to Mohave County, diocese spokesman Fred Allison said.

"Purcell provided him (Flores) with daily necessities" and used that relationship to foster an abusive bond with the then-13-year-old Flores, said Gardner, who investigated the case.

Flores reported the allegations to police in May after keeping the alleged abuse to himself for 20 years, Gardner said.

When the trauma threatened his marriage, he told his family what happened and was persuaded to tell police, Gardner said.

"He's been carrying the emotional baggage for 20 years," Gardner said. "He's having a variety of emotional problems."

A three-month investigation reportedly corroborated Flores' allegations, and Gardner sent the case to Pima County prosecutors last week. The indictment was returned Wednesday.

The 20-year-old case meets the statute of limitations because the clock doesn't start ticking until the case is reported to police, said Deputy County Attorney Micah Schmit, who is a prosecutor on the case.

While Schmit said a case this old can be difficult to prosecute, Flores' memory is "so vivid" that the passage of time shouldn't pose a problem.

The Catholic Diocese of Tucson cooperated with the investigation, Gardner said. The diocese placed Purcell's name on a list of 16 publicly named priests accused of sexual abuse after Gardner contacted church officials about the case, Allison said.

"We had no prior allegation of sexual misconduct or child sexual abuse," Allison said.

He said Purcell was a visiting priest from St. Louis when he was at St. Odilia, lived for a time in the church rectory and in South Tucson and left the diocese in 1985. Allison said he settled in Mohave County but was inactive in the priesthood at that time.

He said the diocese offered Flores counseling, but he did not respond to the request.

The diocese's cooperation in this case shows the church is approaching sex abuse allegations with "openness and transparency," Allison said. The diocese adopted new sex abuse guidelines in July and in August called Yuma police about a priest accused of sexual molestation.

Cooperation on this case predated either.



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