Priest Accused of Sex Abuse
Rev. Gary Underwood Served at St. Odilia's on Nw Side from 1983-87 Catholic Church until 1987

By A.J. Flick
Tucson Citizen [Tucson AZ]
December 7, 2006

A former Tucson priest was indicted last month on charges of molestation and sexual conduct with two boys in the 1980s.

A Pima County grand jury indicted the Rev. Gary Edward Underwood on one count of molestation of a child and two counts of sexual conduct with a minor under 15 in one case and six counts of molestation of a child and one count of sexual conduct with a minor under 15 in the other case.

Underwood served at St. Odilia Catholic Church, 7570 N. Paseo Del Norte, in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson from March 1983 through September 1987, said Fred Allison, diocese spokesman.

Underwood, who was assigned to the Archdiocese of the Military USA in September 1987 by the Tucson diocese, has been placed on leave by the diocese because of the allegations, Allison said. The military diocese provides chaplains to members of the military.

The diocese was given information about possible misconduct in June and immediately contacted the Pima County Attorney's Office, Allison said.

Underwood is due in court Jan. 5 for his first court hearing, according to Superior Court records. It's not know where he is.

Underwood's attorney, Dan Cooper, said the charges "came as a surprise" to the priest. Cooper said Underwood is innocent.

"He's a really good person," Cooper said. "We're ready to go to trial."

The diocese is not paying for Underwood's defense, Allison said. The diocese will not act on any allegations regarding Underwood until the criminal case is over, he added.

Underwood was ordained in 1980, Allison said. He served in the Tucson diocese from 1980 through 1987, when he volunteered to join the military chaplaincy.

In 2003, a priest in a little-known order devoted to the Virgin Mary who was assigned to St. Odilia's was sentenced to 9 1/2 years in prison for molesting a 13-year-old South Tucson boy in 1982.

Thomas Patrick Purcell, 66, was convicted of three counts of sexual conduct with a minor under 15 and one count of attempted sexual contact with a minor.

In 2004, the Tucson diocese announced that all priests who had been involved in sexual misconduct here had been identified.

Purcell was among 26 priests against whom there were "credible" claims involving 96 alleged molestation victims. Underwood had no previous allegations against him before this year, Allison said.

The Tucson Diocese filed for bankruptcy in 2004 after a series of lawsuits were filed over the sexual misconduct allegations.

Last year, the diocese agreed to pay $22.3 million to more than 50 victims of sexual abuse by priests.


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