Barksdale Chaplain Faces Sex Charges in Arizona

Associated Press, carried in Shreveport Times
December 6, 2006

Tucson, Ariz. -- A chaplain at Barksdale Air Force Base has been indicted on charges that he sexually abused two boys in the 1980s in Arizona.

The Rev. Gary E. Underwood, a priest assigned to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson and a major in the Air Force, was indicted on eight charges of sexual conduct with a minor and child molestation, the Pima County attorney's office said.

The diocese lists Underwood as being on leave and serving at Barksdale. But under diocese policy, he has been suspended from the priesthood.

Underwood is accused of victimizing two boys under the age of 15 in 1983 and 1984 while serving as a priest at St. Odilia's Catholic Church, Pima County Deputy Attorney Kathleen Mayer said.

"He's innocent and we look forward to litigating," said Underwood's attorney, Dan Cooper.

Underwood is free on bond. Cooper would not say where the priest is living. His exact age was not available, but he is now in his early 50s.

Officials with the Tucson diocese declined to comment, referring all questions to the prosecutor.

Prosecutors learned of the accusations from the diocese, Mayer said, after church officials spoke to a relative of one of the men who says he was abused.

The prosecutor said Underwood served at St. Odilia's from 1982 to 1988 and was arraigned Nov. 17.

The diocese in 2002 began compiling a list of 30 priests, two deacons and a nun with credible allegations of abuse against them. That's when the Tucson diocese reached a $14 million settlement with 10 men who said they were sexually abused by four local clergy members in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

Three diocese priests have been imprisoned for sexual abuse. They include:

  • the Rev. Julian Sanz, a former pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Douglas, Ariz., who was sentenced in 2003 to five years for sexually abusing an 11-year-old altar boy during confession in 1982.

  • the Rev. Juan Guillen, a former associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Yuma, Ariz., who is serving 10 years on two counts of attempted child molestation for sexually abusing altar boys.

  • the Rev. Thomas Purcell, a member of the Society of Mary religious order who is serving 9 1/2 years for sexually abusing a South Tucson, Ariz., boy in the 1980s.

    The diocese filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004 as it faced a raft of lawsuits related to sexual abuse by priests. It became the first Catholic diocese in the country to emerge from Chapter 11 protection in 2005.

    The diocese created a fund of more than $20 million to compensate people molested by members of the clergy.

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