Ex-Tucson Priest Wants Abuse Accusations Tossed

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star [Tucson, Arizona]
July 11, 2007

A Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson priest accused of molesting three teenage boys during the 1980s wants the case dismissed because of the long delay in charging him.

The Rev. Gary E. Underwood, who has not worked in the local diocese since 1987, is facing charges of both child molestation and sexual conduct with a minor in connection with reports that he abused boys while working as a priest at St. Odilia's Catholic Church on Tucson's Northwest Side during the mid-1980s.

Underwood, 53, was not arrested until last year a 22-year delay between the alleged acts and the charges that his attorney Dan Cooper says violated his client's, "right to due process and fundamental fairness." Prosecutors have until the end of July to respond.

During a pre-trial conference Tuesday, Pima County Superior Court Judge Richard Nichols set Underwood's next court date at Sept. 24.

Prosecutors say Underwood molested the boys in the St. Odilia's rectory, as well as in a hot tub, in his car and inside the church itself. He is accused of having an "overarching scheme or plan" to engage in sexual acts with the boys, befriending them with a young, cool, demeanor and driving them in his red Corvette. Prosecutors say he then took advantage of them by supplying them with alcohol, showing them pornography, and having sexual contact with them.

Did You Know...

Facing a spate of potentially expensive lawsuits over sexual abuse by priests in 2004, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In 2005, it became the first Catholic diocese in the country to emerge from Chapter 11 and created a fund of more than $20 million for people and family members of those who were sexually abused.

The boys, now in their late 30s, were all under the age of 15 at the time the alleged abuse occurred, prosecutors say.

Cooper says Underwood is innocent and is looking forward to defending himself against the accusations.

"As a result of the 22-year delay in bringing charges against Father Underwood, these essential defense witnesses have been lost," says a motion filed by Cooper. "Father Underwood's ability to meaningfully defend himself has been destroyed and he cannot receive a fair trial."

Until recently, Underwood was a chaplain with the Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, La. A spokesman for Barksdale confirmed that Underwood is still living and working there, though he is no longer serving as a chaplain. Under the diocese's policy on allegations of child abuse, Underwood is currently suspended from the priesthood.

Underwood, who was ordained in the local diocese, served at St. Odilia's from 1983 to 1986, and at St. Anthony's in Casa Grande in 1987. He was initially arraigned Nov. 17 on accusations that he sexually abused two boys under the age of 15. The second indictment against him was dated April 24.

The diocese reported the first case to the Pima County Attorney's Office after getting a report from a family member of one of the men who says he was abused. The diocese has made public a list of 30 priests, two deacons and one nun with what it terms as credible allegations of abuse against them, but Underwood is not on the list. Diocese officials say they can't make any determination until the case has gone through the criminal justice system.

The diocese created the list in 2002 after reaching a $14 million settlement with 10 men who said they had repressed memories of being sexually abused as children by four local clergy members in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

Three priests who once worked in the diocese have already been sent to prison for sexual abuse:

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

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

• The Rev. Thomas Purcell , a member of the Society of Mary Religious order, who is serving 9.5 years for sexually abusing a South Tucson boy in the 1980s.

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or


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