Priest Sought after Sex Abuse Conviction

By Gabriela Rico
Tucson Citizen
March 29, 2003

A national arrest warrant has been issued for a former Tucson priest who was convicted Wednesday of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy 20 years ago.

The Rev. Thomas Patrick Purcell, 61, was arrested in Bullhead City in September and charged with sexually abusing the South Tucson boy, whose family Purcell had befriended.

Purcell was convicted of three counts of sexual conduct with a minor under the age of 15 and one count of attempted sexual conduct with a minor under 15, said Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer.

"The victim feels a profound sense of relief and hopes to put this behind him," Mayer said. "Even though it's taken 20 years, justice has been done."

Although Purcell checked in with pretrial services here the day before his trial began, he did not show up for the trial, and his whereabouts are unknown, Mayer said.

"He is rumored to be in central Arizona," she said. "He is rumored to be in Illinois. He speaks Spanish and has connections in Central America and Mexico."

Purcell faces four to 15 years in prison on each count, "if we find him," Mayer said.

His attorney, Leo Plowman, said he could not comment on the case or his client.

The victim, who now lives in California, lived in South Tucson in the early 1980s, when Purcell befriended his family and acted as "a father figure" to the boy, South Tucson police Detective Bryce Gardner, who conducted the initial investigation, said last fall.

Purcell was a visiting priest at St. Odilia Catholic Church, 7570 N. Paseo del Norte, at the time the abuse took place, according to the Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

Purcell was indicted following a three-month investigation.

The diocese cooperated with the investigation, Gardner said.

The diocese placed Purcell's name on a list of 16 publicly named priests accused of sexual abuse after Gardner contacted church officials about the case.

The diocese adopted new sex abuse guidelines in July.



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