Former Priest Enters Plea in Molestation Case

By Beth DeFalco
The Associated Press
August 31, 2004

Former Roman Catholic priest Lawrence Joseph Lovell pleaded no contest on Tuesday to one count of child molestation and one count of attempted sexual conduct with a minor.

Lovell, who is already serving a prison term in another case, faces slightly more than five years to 14 years in prison for this case when sentenced Nov. 18 in Phoenix, said Deputy County Attorney Rachel Mitchell.

The 56-year-old had been charged with eight counts of child molestation and one count of sexual conduct with a minor. The remaining seven counts are to be dismissed at sentencing, Mitchell said.

The charges against Lovell stem from allegations dating back to 1984. They involve a boy who was 8 or 9 years old at the time and attended St. Anthony in Phoenix.

The charges follow ones in which he was accused of abusing children between 1976 and 1979 while serving as a priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Prescott. For those incidents, Lovell was sentenced in March to 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of molestation of a child and sexual conduct.

His sentence for the incidents in Prescott and Phoenix will have to be served consecutively as part of the plea agreement.

There is no legal benefit pleading no contest, Mitchell said.

"Maybe there's the benefit that he doesn't have to admit the details" to the court, she added.

Lovell did not speak during Tuesday's hearing except to answer the judge's questions with affirmative one word answers.

"The defendant, while not having specific recollection ... does acknowledge having improper contact" with the victim, said Lovell's court-appointed defense attorney, Jeff Myer.

The contact took place in the rectory at St. Anthony. Mitchell said the victim, who reported the allegations in late 2003, thinks the no contest plea is sufficient.

"It provides him closure," she said.

Lovell has a history of sex abuse charges.

Lovell was accused of molesting four boys at San Gabriel Mission in California between 1980 and 1984 when he was the youth pastor in charge of altar boys. Prosecutors there charged Lovell with 11 counts of lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14 and he could have faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

However, the charges were dismissed in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a California law erasing the statute of limitations on old child molestation cases.

Lovell was previously convicted in California of child molestation in 1986 and removed from the ministry that year.

The former priest is now married with stepchildren and was living in New Mexico at the time of his arrest on the Arizona charges. He had been working as a case manager for the University of New Mexico Mental Health Center since 1992.

Lovell was one of seven current and former priests indicted in Maricopa County in 2003 on sex abuse charges.

Three are fighting extradition.

Joseph Cevantez Briceno, who had worked as a priest in the Phoenix diocese, is believed to be in Mexico. Patrick Oliver Colleary, who worked as a priest at a Scottsdale church, is in Ireland. And the Rev. Joseph John Henn, who worked as an associate pastor at St. Mark's in Phoenix from 1978 to 1982, is in Rome.

Also indicted was Henry Perez, who died shortly after charges were filed.

Karl Herbert LeClaire was charged with felony molestation of a child and sexual conduct of a minor. He is awaiting trial.

Paul Francis LeBrun is also awaiting trial on one felony charge of sexual conduct with a minor.


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