Bishop Kept Priest on Job Despite 1986 Sex Arrest
O'Brien Faces Criticism from Some Parishioners

By Charles Kelly, Kelly Pearce and Susan Leonard
Arizona Republic
March 20, 1993

A Catholic priest from Chandler who now has admitted having sex with 10 teen-agers told his bishop in 1986 that he had been arrested for indecent exposure, but the bishop did not order him to get treatment for sexual problems.

Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien told reporters Friday that the Rev. Wilputte Alanson "Lan" Sherwood, who was accused March 11 of sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old hitchhiker, personally approached him after Sherwood's 1986 arrest for indecent exposure in Phoenix.

"He was remorseful and embarrassed about the situation," O'Brien told an afternoon news conference.

"He told me there was no other person involved and that it came at a weak moment which he deeply regretted."

Believing Sherwood was not a threat, O'Brien said he advised the priest to seek counseling.

"I did not, however, relieve him of his priestly duties, nor did I mandate a treatment program for him," the bishop said.

Although aware of Sherwood's 1986 arrest and subsequent conviction, O'Brien said he didn't know Sherwood had been convicted of a similar charge in 1984.

"I believed my response was appropriate for that one incident (in 1986)," O'Brien said. "If you asked me what I would do today faced with a similar situation, in the context of 1993 and considering what we know about this type of behavior, my actions might well be different."

Phoenix Municipal Court records show Sherwood has been convicted twice of indecent exposure.

The first arrest took place Feb. 28, 1984, at the Worldwide Bookstore at 1005 E. Camelback, after a Phoenix undercover officer caught him exposing himself.

Sherwood was booked into jail and pleaded guilty to public sexual contact on March 13, 1984, records say. He was fined $56.

The second incident occurred July 1, 1986, in a "live show" booth at Pleasure World Adult Book Store, 40229 E. Washington St., according to a police report.

The arresting officer wrote that Sherwood pleaded to be spared arrest.

Sherwood pleaded no contest to indecent exposure on Aug. 25, 1986. He was fined $300 and placed on two years of summary probation, meaning he had to obey state laws but didn't have to report to a probation officer.

Sherwood, pastor of St. Benedict Catholic Church in Chandler since its founding in 1985, was arrested March 11 after a teen-age hitchhiker accused him of exposing himself and showing the youth pornographic films after taking him back to his home in the church rectory.

According to a search-warrant affidavit, Sherwood told Chandler police that he had been picking up hitchhikers for several years and taking them home, where he videotaping some of them in various sex acts.

Sherwood told police 10 of his encounters were with people under 18, the youngest being a 15-year-old.

However, after sifting through evidence they had seized at the rectory, such as computer disks and notebooks describing sex acts and naming individuals, police determined that the youngest juvenile was 14.

Police confiscated 272 videotapes found in a locked closet in Sherwood's bedroom. He told authorities the movies were categorized under the headings heterosexual-pornographic, sexual-adult, gay-male X-rated and homemade films.

Ledgers kept in four three-ring binders contained sexual partners' first names, physical descriptions, type of acts performed and ages and scores based on their appearances and performances, the affidavit states.

When O'Brien met with about 225 members of St. Benedict on Friday night, he repeated to parishioners his belief that Sherwood's 1986 arrest was an isolated incident.

"I am not a policeman, I don't knock on people's doors in the middle of the night and find out what they're doing," O'Brien said.

One male parishioner shouted, "Maybe you should."

Church officials refused to allow reporters into the meeting, however, some reporters entered the chruch.

The crowd seemed almost evenly split between those who agreed with O'Brien's message that they should address the question and move on and those who seemed to be angry and frustrated.

None of the people who were with Sherwood were parishioners or juveniles, O'Brien said.

"I really believe this is a test of faith, our Catholic faith, yours and mine," O'Brien said.

Many in the crowd applauded, but not everyone agreed.

"Don't tell me again that we were not victimized," one female parishioner told O'Brien. "We are all victims here. You were derelict in your duties."

Others said they wanted the church to conduct background searches on priests and provide helpt to those who need it.

O'Brien said he has "difficulty going on a witch hunt without reason or evidence."

The bishop said he has selected a new pastor for the parish. Sherwood, who is free on his own recognizance, has been placed on leave but is receiving his $685-a-month salary and $550-a-month car allowance.

After his arrest March 11, the priest was accused of furnishing obscene items to a minor, child prostitution, public sexual indecency and indecent exposure.

At that time, he signed a consent form allowing police to search his home.

But when information pointed to further evidence at the rectory, Chandler police drafted an affidavit for a search warrant. It was filed in Chandler City Court on Tuesday and unsealed Thursday night.

In the eight-page affidavit, police described what Sherwood did with the Tucson hitchhiker he picked up March 11 along Interstate 10 south of Phoenix.

The priest contends the youth told him he was 18; the youth asserts he told Sherwood he was 17.

The juvenile, who had been hitchhiking home from Flagstaff, said Sherwood twice asked him to perform a sex act.

The youth declined both times, and, fearing that the priest was getting angry, the boy escaped and called police.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.