Ex Avondale Priest Returns to Face Charges

By John Machay
West Valley View [Avondale AZ]
January 4, 2006

A former Avondale priest accused of sexual misconduct with children has returned to Arizona to face the consequences of his alleged actions, authorities said.

Father Joseph Cervantez Briceno, the onetime pastor of St. William Church in Avondale, was extradited Tuesday from El Centro, Calif., where he's been jailed since his Dec. 16 arrest, said Lt. Paul Chagolla, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff's deputies escorted the 59-year-old priest aboard MCSO's fixed wing plane, which landed in Phoenix at about noon, Chagolla said.

Shortly after his arrival, Briceno made an initial appearance in a Fourth Avenue Jail courtroom, where bail was set at $250,000 cash, said Bill FitzGerald, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. He's also been ordered to surrender his passport and, should he be bailed out, wear a Global Positioning System monitoring device so authorities can keep track of his whereabouts, FitzGerald said.

Briceno has been returned to Arizona to face six counts of sexual conduct with a minor, one count of attempted sexual contact with a minor and one count of sexual abuse, according to a grand jury indictment handed down May 14, 2003.

The charges stem from a number of alleged sexual encounters involving the priest and two underage teens, all of which reportedly occurred in 1982 and 1983 while Briceno was serving at St. Mary's Church in Chandler, the indictment states. Several of the encounters reportedly occurred with a 16-year-old boy in the rectory of St. Mary's, according to a case summary prepared by Lt. Mark Stribling of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

Although Diocese of Phoenix officials learned of the allegations before suspending Briceno in 1992, the story didn't become public until 10 years later, after the Maricopa County Attorney's Office launched an investigation into sexual misconduct among diocesan priests.

Briceno was indicted the following year, but by then had fled to Mexico, where he's spent the past 13 years serving as an associate pastor at Cristo Rey Parish in San Luis, Sonora, according to the U.S. Marshals Office.

Briceno, who over the years ignored pleas by Catholic Church officials to turn himself in, surprised law enforcement officials Dec. 21 when he waived his right to fight extradition.

Briceno is expected to be arraigned on his charges within 10 days of his arrival, FitzGerald said.

"After that, there will be a trial management conference in about four to six weeks," he said. "And then discussion of a trial date should start to take place."

Briceno, who was ordained in 1981, began his tenure at St. William Church in 1985. He left seven years later to become pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Peoria, where he served for only one month before he was suspended by the Diocese of Phoenix.


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