Convicted Priest to Face Sentencing

By Gary Grado
East Valley Tribune [Arizona]
January 25, 2005

Mesa priest convicted of giving a teenager sexually motivated massages will ride a wave of support into court Friday for his sentencing. Thirty-six Queen of Peace parishioners, former colleagues and lifelong friends wrote Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens, urging she go easy on the Rev. Karl LeClaire, 48.

LeClaire, former pastor of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mesa, pleaded guilty Oct. 28 to sexually motivated aggravated assault and agreed to a sentence of three years’ probation.

Stephens can also throw him in the county jail for up to a year.

Many of LeClaire’s supporters said in letters that he was wrongfully accused, one going so far as to say L eClaire’s accuser was the son the priest would never have.

Other letters touted LeClaire’s talents as a priest, both at the pulpit and in counseling grief-stricken and troubled people.

Still others said LeClaire, who was principal of the church’s school, was a great teacher.

"He became a mentor for me even though he did not know it," wrote Betty Nardelli, the school’s vice principal. "I looked up to him and continue to do so."

None of the letter writers contacted by the Tribune returned messages seeking comment.

Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell said LeClaire preyed on the teenage parishioner — now a 22-year-old Army recruit —when he was emotionally fragile as his parents divorced. Eventually, LeClaire touched the boy’s penis while giving him a massage.

A lawsuit the man filed against LeClaire is still pending.

It is one of at least 13 suits filed in Maricopa County Superior Court against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix since 2003, when former church leader Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien admitted to covering up for pedophile priests.

O’Brien’s admission came after a yearlong investigation into sexual misconduct within the diocese. In all, eight priests were charged with sex offenses, five of them from the East Valley.

Three of the priests are out of the country either fighting extradition or on the run, three have pleaded guilty to sex offenses, one died just after his indictment and one is headed for trial in May.