Priest Pleads Guilty to Sex Acts with 3 Boys

By Kim Smith
Arizona Daily Star
May 14, 2008

[with statement from Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas]

A former Tucson priest admitted Tuesday afternoon to engaging in sexual acts with three teenage boys in 1983 and 1984.

The Rev. Gary E. Underwood pleaded guilty to six counts of sexual conduct with a minor and will be sentenced in August.

Underwood is facing a mandatory prison sentence of between nine months and two years on one of the counts. Pima County Superior Court Judge Richard Nichols must decide if Underwood should receive lifetime probation or identical prison sentences on the other counts, or a combination.

The judge must also decide whether the five other sentences should run concurrently or consecutively.

Underwood was indicted in December 2006 on 13 counts of sexual conduct with a minor under 15.

The plea agreement dismisses seven of the counts and amends the age of the victims to "under 18." Had Underwood gone to trial and been convicted, he was facing a life sentence because the victims were under 15.

Tucson Bishop issues statement

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson issued a written statement regarding the Rev. Gary Underwood. It read, in part:

"I am deeply saddened by Rev. Underwood's admitted behavior. Rev. Underwood has been under suspension as a priest both in the Diocese of Tucson and the Archdiocese of the Military USA since the Diocese first became aware of the allegations of misconduct. The Diocese reported those allegations to law enforcement when it became aware of them."

The statement goes on to say:

"Rev. Underwood will not return to active service as a priest. A priest who has abused minors no longer can serve in ministry.

"I welcome the opportunity to meet with any of those harmed by Rev. Underwood to express to them personally my apology and profound sorrow for what happened to them."

On Tuesday, Underwood admitted he engaged in oral sex with two of the boys and other acts with the third.

At the time of Underwood's indictment, Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer said the acts occurred while Underwood, now in his early 50s, was a priest at St. Odilia Catholic Church, 7570 N. Paseo del Norte, on Tucson's Northwest Side.

Underwood served at St. Odilia from 1982 to 1988.

When indicted, Underwood was serving as a chaplain at Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, La., but he has since retired.

Under diocese policy regarding allegations of child abuse, Underwood was also suspended from the priesthood.

Two of Underwood's victims were at Tuesday's hearing; the third is serving a 13-year prison sentence on drug-related charges.

That man's father, whom the Star is not naming to protect the victim's identity, had mixed feelings about the plea agreement.

If his son had to testify against Underwood at a trial, he would have become "fair game" for other prisoners, the father said.

At the same time, Underwood is only going to have to serve 50 percent of whatever prison sentence he receives because he is being sentenced under 1980s-era statutes. Now, defendants must serve 85 percent of their prison sentences.

"This was a horrible thing," the man said. "Here's this Father at a church, hiding behind his robes, assaulting children. I've got a son in prison who has never gotten over this." His son turned to crack cocaine because of Underwood and has tried to commit suicide three times, his father said.

The diocese already has made public a list of 30 priests, two deacons and one nun with credible allegations of abuse against them. 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.

Mayer's office learned about the case from the diocese, which heard about accusations from a family member of one of the men who says he was abused.

Three priests who once worked in the diocese have already been sent to prison for sexual abuse the Rev. Julan 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, the 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; and 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.

Facing a spate of potentially expensive lawsuits over the sexual abuse by priests in 2004, the diocese 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 who were sexually abused.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or


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