Notes from the Priest Abuse Hearing

By Stephanie Innes
Tucson Daily Star

August 6, 2008

For anyone interested in more than the story in Tuesday’s paper had to offer about the Rev. Gary E. Underwood, here are a few tidbits.

A 40-year-old physician who lives in Texas was one of the most powerful witnesses for the prosecution. He lived in the rectory at St. Odilia’s Catholic Church with Underwood in the early 1980s when he was 17 and 18, and his parents had moved out of state.

He wasn’t in much of Tuesday’s story because he wasn’t one of the victims named in the criminal case. He can’t remember whether he was abused by Underwood or not, though he remembers Underwood tried to make sexual advances toward him.

"We’d drink and he’d want to go into the jacuzzi. Numerous times there would be a foot on my inner thigh," said the man, a 1985 graduate of Amphitheater High School.

"He’d show us (the man and his friend) his erection. I stayed away as much as I could, but he was a master predator. He’d built up this bond with my mother, so everything he said was golden…My mother would say ‘he knows best,’ stay at the rectory."

The man said he slept on a pullout couch at the rectory. One night he woke up and Underwood was sitting on the end of his bed naked and smoking.

"He wanted me to come in and sleep on the water bed with him. He said he needed me," said the man, who requested anonymity.

The man also described getting a letter from Underwood.

"It stated ‘I’m attracted to you, I need you, want you, love you.’

All of Underwood’s siblings, most of them Tucson residents, testified for the priest. So did some of his nieces and nephews.

His sister, Diann Machan, called Underwood, "the best brother you could have."

"He’s at every social gathering. Everyone knows him, loves him."

She also said that Underwood has medical problems. In addition to being a polio survivor, she said the priest is a prostate cancer survivor, and suffers from osteoporosis and a sleep condition that requires him to wear a breathing machine when he sleeps.

"I have a hard time believing any of the stuff I have heard today. This is a man people love dearly. My brother is a good and honorable man."

His nieces and nephews talked about being angry over the charges, and admiring their uncle for maintaining composure. Some of his friends and colleagues said the same.

"(The abuse) is beyond the character of the man I have known for the last 10 years," said Col. Scott Calisti, who works for the U.S. Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon. "I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now. He will continue to be a close family friend."

Heather Hannaway, a pastoral associate who works for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, said she is grieving for Underwood.

"I’ve seen many of our priests undergo these kinds of allegations," she said. "I’m just glad he was in my life and the lives of my children. I would trust him implicitly with my children…Father Gary is simply amazing.

Prosecutor Kathy Mayer said Underwood sexually abused one boy at least 20 times over a four year period. That boy is now a 38-year-old man serving a drug-related sentence in state prison. He testified that in court that he’s been unable to kick his drug habit. The man’s parents sat in the front row of the courtroom. His mother sobbed.

In a statement to the Pima County Adult Probation Department Underwood said that the sexual abuse he inflicted on the boys has haunted him for more than two decades.

"I feel absolutely terrible about these offenses and I do not know what caused me to act so out of character," he said. "I was the adult, the role model, and I abused my position of authority over these boys."

The pre-sentence report said that until the sentencing, Underwood was living in Tucson with his parents after recently retiring from the Air Force, where he was a chaplain.

The courtroom was packed with victims’ friends and family members as well as Underwood’s friends and family members. There was quite a bit of tension between the two sides, as well as gasps during testimony from those who apparently didn’t believe the men had really been abused.



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