Former Catholic Principal Arraigned on Abuse Charges

Associated Press State & Local Wire
June 10, 2003

A priest who once served at a Catholic church here has pleaded innocent to charges of child molestation and sexual conduct with a minor.

The Rev. Karl LeClaire was arraigned Monday through closed-circuit television in front of Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Benjamin Vatz.

The indictment is the result of a year-long investigation of the Phoenix Diocese by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. The investigation also led to the indictments of five other current or former priests.

LeClaire once served as a priest at Queen of Peace Catholic Church and was principal of the parish's grade school. He is accused of engaging in sexual acts with a male student from 1993 to 2000. He resigned from the positions in 2001.

He is being held on $180,000 bond at the Maricopa County Jail.

Stella Quintanares, who attends Queen of Peace and worked as director of the church's child care program, said she stands behind LeClaire.

"I find it very, very hard to believe that he would harm a child," she said. "He's special. The kids would wave at him. I never saw him touch a kid. Never. Never."

According to documents including a lawsuit filed by the victim in U.S. District Court and the Maricopa County investigation, LeClaire is accused of gaining the family's trust, which then allowed the youth to travel extensively with the priest.

Documents state that the pair traveled to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and went on cruises to Alaska and the Mediterranean.

In addition, court documents charge that the youth received gifts from LeClaire, including a laptop computer, an $11,000 car loan and help in gaining admission to Chandler's Seton Catholic High School.

LeClaire was placed on administrative leave in 2001 after the boy reported to the diocese that LeClaire molested him.

The priest later announced his resignation, saying that "the constant struggle of ideologies between what a pastor and parish should be in such a large and diverse community" had taken its toll on him, according to his statement read at church services at the time.


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